Wind Farms Peppered Across Britain But What of the Tide?

The coalition government’s energy policies are confused and lack ambition.

British energy and climate change minister John Hayes in London, February 8
British energy and climate change minister John Hayes in London, February 8 (National Apprenticeship Service/Helen Maybanks)

As Britain’s coalition government nears the end of its second year in power, energy policy seems to cast a shadow over it. From the news that Hitachi has brought the rights of E-on and RWE for £700 million to build the country a new generation of nuclear power plants to shale gas exploration and reports that the coalition is “at war” over wind farms after the Conservative energy minister John Hayes stated that he had “had enough of turbines peppered across the country.”

Several studies have recently shown that between the 2020s and the 2050s, depending on policy, the United Kingdom could solve its balance of trade deficit and become a new energy exporter, something not seen in nearly ten years. The Offshore Valuation suggests that using just a third of Britain’s wave, wind and tidal resources could unlock the electricity equivalent of one billion barrels of oil per year, matching North Sea oil and gas production, reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1.1 billion tonnes and create up to 145,000 new jobs.

As the windiest nation in Europe and with over 11,000 miles of coastline, Britain has access to an Aladdin’s cave of renewable resources which are not only abundant but free.

The most ambitious course of action would allow for an average of 13.1 gigawatt of wind and tidal or wave energy being installed each year up to 2050, providing an estimated £24 billion in profits and produce the energy equivalent of 2.6 billion barrels of oil annually.

For comparison, Saudi Arabia produces nearly eight billion barrels of oil per year.

The scenario set out above is hugely ambitious. Even if Britain’s current plans to build a new generation of offshore wind farms represent the largest of its kind in the world, they would add only 30 gigawatts of new capacity by 2020.

What’s important to recognize is that wind is nowhere near as predictable as the tide. Being an island nation, Britain has a clear interest in utilizing this phenomena which occurs twice a day. The Crown Estate recently published a study into the county’s potential marine energy resources which showed that there is the potential to harness up to 153 gigawatts of tidal power capacity in the United Kingdom, using three types of technology.

Even so, it’s likely that Britons will continue to see wind farms “peppered” near them for the foreseeable future.