Britain Reaffirms Big Commitment to Offshore Wind

Additional sea-based capacity could equal half of UK's total current generating capacity

2 min read

Six years ago IEEE Spectrum reported about  the British stealing a march on the Danes and Germans, with very ambitious plans for offshore wind energy. Those plans have evolved somewhat more slowly than hoped, but this last week the UK reaffirmed its commitment to offshore wind with refurbished plans that are more ambitious than ever. If technological challenges can be surmounted and adequate financing secured, the additional offshore wind turbines installed in the coming decade will be equivalent to about half the country's total current capacity.

The contracts announced by Prime Minister Gordon Brown involve many of Europe's best-known energy companies and contractors, from Sweden's Vattenfall to Germany's Hochtief. Some of them such as Vestas, Siemens, Statkraft, and Statoil have considerable experience working in deep waters, but even so, the program will pose immense challenges. As the New York Times commented in a report, turbine towers are to be anchored and maintained in waters that are deeper, rougher, and further offshore than ever attempted before.

The total cost of installing as much as 32 GW in new offshore wind capacity is estimated at 75-100 billion British pounds--as much as $160 billion. But that may be conservative. Even the highest estimated costs are in the range of $5-6 per installed watt, which appears to be lower than the average global cost of installing wind today, both on land and offshore. Perhaps the estimates assume that with technology advances costs will come down, but that's not to be taken for granted. Costs may actually go up as wind is installed in less and less hospitable surroundings.

The Financial Times worries that the program will not be realized without adequate government guarantees for financing, especially with subsidies for wind scheduled to come down in 2014. But don't underestimate England's experience and resolve. Since 2004 it has installed 700 MW of wind offshore, which is between a third and a half of the global offshore total.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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