Wind will play a crucial role in generating a clean future, especially for countries such as the United Kingdom. Wind-energy generating capacity has grown threefold in the UK over the past decade. As of January 2021, there are around 8,600 onshore wind turbines across the UK, and an additional 2,300 offshore. Multiple wind energy records were broken in the country in 2020. On December 18, the highest ever level of wind power was recorded in the UK (a whopping 17.2GW). Wind is Britain’s second-largest source of electricity, an impressive position that officials hope to maintain.
But will the UK be able to keep up this pace and harness wind energy to its maximum potential? Much of that will depend on grid infrastructure, public acceptance of wind farms, and improvements in battery storage technology. Let’s have a look at four trends in wind energy to monitor over the next decade.
1 - OPPOSITION
After the Winter Storm Uri ravaged Texas in February this year, an unlikely chorus of wind-weary critics emerged. Fox Newscaster Tucker Carlson seemed to attribute the disaster to wind turbines, saying that "the windmills failed like the silly fashion accessories they are, and people in Texas died". While some turbines did indeed freeze, so did the gas and nuclear equipment, and Carlson’s analysis has been largely proven to be incorrect.
In the United Kingdom, opposition to wind energy is usually made on the basis that onshore wind farms reduce land value and biodiversity are unreliable, fail to reduce CO2, and are costly. In Ireland, a recent survey from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) found that more than three-quarters of people surveyed were positively disposed to on-shore wind turbines, but just 36% were willing to accept developments within 5 kms of their homes. As more people become acutely aware of the climate crisis and its impacts on their lives, will they support or oppose onshore wind farms?
In October 2020, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged £160m to ports and factories to help build wind turbines and develop the industry, promising that by 2030, offshore wind will power every British home, making the UK a ‘world leader in clean wind energy’. Critics have argued that these targets are unrealistic, and the government lacks a convincing plan for how the current grid system would be upgraded to cope with energy generation on that scale. Experts at Aurora Energy Research estimated a cost of £50 billion in capital outlay to meet these targets. Will the government step up to the plate? Time will tell.
Meanwhile, big tech companies are making huge inroads into renewable energy to power their operations. In late 2020, Amazon became the world’s largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy. The Seattle giant has invested in 6.5 GW of wind and solar projects, enough to supply its operations with more than 18 million MWh of renewable energy every year. The company hopes to run 100% of its business on renewable energy by 2025.
3 - GRID INNOVATION
Most of the damage from the deadly storm this February in Texas was caused by fallibilities in the state’s grid infrastructure. A Princeton University study estimates that the US would need a transmission system that is at least 60% larger by 2030 to meet its net-zero goals. Investing in a robust and reliable grid will also be an essential part of Britain’s shift to renewable energy. Forecasters have warned that without investment into grid infrastructure, not only will UK fail to meet its targets, but electricity prices might dramatically escalate.
In Britain, the National Grid announced in March that it would invest around £10 billion into its power transmission network by 2026. In recent years National Grid ESO has introduced wide-ranging reforms to help deliver a nationwide net zero programme. These changes include improvements to the balancing mechanism, ancillary services, and the capacity market. Just last year the National Grid launched Dynamic Containment, a ‘fast-acting frequency product’ that boosts the network’s ability to respond rapidly to disturbances in energy flow. They also began expanding access to the electricity market, launching a wider access API that allows smaller providers to access the balancing mechanism for the first time. Tesla took advantage of this, becoming the first company to go live with the new API, using its automated real-time trading and control platform Autobidder to manage access to the balancing mechanism for its 7.5MW battery storage plant at Holes Bay.
4 - STORAGE TECH
Investing in storage capacity technology will be critical for ensuring that solar and wind energy can be reliable, stable, and cheap sources of electricity generation. A report from LCP found that an increase of 20 GWh of battery storage could reduce wasted wind power in the UK by 50%, saving consumers £1 billion per year by 2025 and recent advances in Lithium-ion battery chemistry and have improved performance and helped reduce costs. But is that enough? Europe has been slower than the United States in accelerated energy storage, though the 640 MWh DP World London Gateway system, which received planning permission in late 2020, could deliver up to 1.3 GWhThat is 10 times the size of the largest battery currently operating in the UK!
There are clearly reasons to be optimistic. Wind power is finally showcasing its true potential. But for us to make this big transition to happen, we will not only need wide acceptance of wind farms, but further innovation into turbine technology, battery storage, and grid infrastructure. We will not only look to the government to solve the climate crisis but also businesses, both large and small. With a clear strategy and commitment, wind energy can continue to grow and optimistically lead us into a greener future.