The U.K. this month launched a major commitment to renewable energy development, with a pledge to get 30 percent of electricity from offshore wind by 2030.
Energy and Clean Growth Minister Claire Perry unveiled plans for a joint government-industry Offshore Wind Sector Deal that would involve a £40 billion ($52 billion) infrastructure investment to bring the nation’s total installed offshore wind capacity to 30 gigawatts.
“This deal will mean for the first time in U.K. history there will be more electricity from renewables than fossil fuels, with 70 percent of British electricity predicted to be from low-carbon sources by 2030,” said the government in a statement.
The deal, which is expected to create almost 20,000 jobs, aims to benefit U.K. companies in offshore wind supply chain centers across the North East, East Anglia, Humber and Solent, while boosting exports.
Specifically, U.K. leaders hope the country’s investment in offshore wind will help stave off China’s growing industry dominance and create an export market worth £2.6 billion ($3.4 billion) per year by 2030, targeting Europe, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the U.S.
Launched a day before International Women’s Day, the deal also challenged the offshore wind sector to more than double the proportion of women workers it hires — up from 16 percent today to at least 33 percent by 2030, with a view to ultimately reaching 40 percent.
The government confirmed a new allocation round for offshore wind contracts for difference would take place in May this year, with subsequent auctions in two years’ time.
Up to £250 million ($325 million) would be invested into the supply chain through an offshore wind growth partnership initiative, the government said.
Ambitious or inadequate?
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said offshore wind has been a U.K. success story, contributing an annual generation share that has risen from 0.8 percent in 2010 to 6.2 percent in 2017 and is expected to hit 10 percent by 2020.
“This deal has the potential to further build on the U.K.’s position as a world leader by providing long-term certainty to business,” said BEIS.
However, it cautioned, the commitment was subject to costs coming down. Also, while BEIS was keen to position the deal as a key milestone in the global shift to clean growth, which it said was one of four grand challenges facing the country, some critics claimed the offshore wind target lacked ambition.
"Now that the government's plans for a fleet of new nuclear reactors has collapsed, it leaves Britain with a big energy gap in the future," John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace U.K., told the BBC. "It means the latest offshore wind target is woefully inadequate.”
And Richard Nourse, founder and managing partner of renewables investor Greencoat Capital, accused the government of focusing only on the U.K. market.
“This seems incredibly unambitious, with a narrow focus on U.K. needs rather than seeing [the] opportunity to become Europe’s source of wind-generated electrons,” he said on Twitter.
Richard Heap, editor-in-chief at Oxford, U.K.-based information service A Word About Wind, noted: “Key players in the U.K. offshore wind industry have understandably welcomed the government's commitment, but the plan is not without its critics.”
Brexit looms large
One of the major challenges facing the industry is that with only three weeks to go before the U.K. is due to leave the European Union, there is still no clarity on what will happen after Brexit.
Shortly before the deal was announced, Wood Mackenzie issued a report claiming a "hard Brexit," with no deal in place, “would have a less severe impact on the offshore wind power industry than other industry sectors.”
Nevertheless, it said, any trade barriers would have a detrimental effect on industry growth — particularly since wind energy is booming elsewhere in Europe.
Last month, the industry body WindEurope revealed that wind had contributed 14 percent of all the electricity used across Europe in 2018, up from 12 percent in 2017.
Wind accounted for 49 percent of all the new power generation capacity in Europe in 2018, it said, even though the amount of new capacity was down a third compared to 2017.