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UK on course to reap massive renewable energy harvest

May 19, 2010 6:10 PM
By Terry Macalister in guardian.co.uk
New report predicts a bright future for Britain's offshore resources. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

New report predicts a bright future for Britain's offshore resources. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

Independent study says North Sea wind and wave power could make Britain the 'Saudi Arabia of renewable energy'.

Britain could become the "Saudi Arabia of the renewables world" on the back of North Sea wind and wave resources, according to a study carried out by government and industry.

The review by independent consultants for the Offshore Valuation Group estimates that by 2050 the UK could generate the equivalent in electricity to the 1bn barrels of oil and gas being produced annually offshore.

Green energy experts in the City are sceptical claiming it would require herculean efforts to put the infrastructure in place to hit even the most modest targets.

The study, undertaken by the Boston Consulting Group, suggests that Britain could not only keep the lights on but would produce a surplus, suggesting the need for connections to a "super grid" to enable electricity to be exported via subsea cables. It predicts that using even 29% of the available resources, Britain could save 1.1bn tonnes of carbon dioxide between now and the middle the century.

"The UK is now most of the way through its first great offshore energy asset, our stock of hydrocarbon reserves. The central finding of this report is that our second offshore asset, of renewable energy, could be just as valuable. Britain's extensive offshore experience could now unlock an energy flow that will never run out," the report concludes.

It looks at different likely scenarios for growth of the industry with even the most conservative - 13% resource utilisation, producing 78 gigawatts of power at a capital cost of £170bn - which would provide half of the UK's electricity demand. A more ambitious scenario, using 29% of resources would see 169GW installed at a cost of nearly £433bn and would make Britain a net exporter of electricity.

The report was sponsored by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Scottish government and the Crown Estate as well as companies including Scottish and Southern Energy, E.ON and turbine manufacturer, Vestas.

David MacKay, the chief scientific adviser at DECC, said the "helpful" study underlined the need for major investments in innovation to bring down the cost of turbines, tidal schemes and novel energy storage systems.

But industry was much more upbeat saying it was very helpful to have a first really authoritative study of the enormous economic benefits waiting to be exploited.

"This is a hugely exciting piece of research which sets out compelling factual evidence of the huge potential of the UK's offshore renewable energy resource," said Peter Madigan, head of offshore renewables at trade body, RenewableUK.

"As an association we have long been saying that the North Sea will become the Saudi Arabia of wind energy, and today's tonne of oil and employment comparisons amply bear this out. Just as 30 years ago, the North Sea could be our ticket for economic growth. We are looking forward to the new government putting in place the policy framework to make this happen," he said.

There was caution among financial analysts such as Dean Cooper, head of clean tech at Ambrian Resources. He said: "We see the report as providing compelling sizing information to value the offshore resource, but equally it highlights the herculean scale of efforts needed to achieve the numbers outlined. To reach 78GW will require a build rate of 2.8GW per annum by 2050, which is equivalent to more than two 5MW turbines every day. This compares to the equivalent of one 5MW turbine installed every two weeks for the installed stock of offshore wind in the UK today.

"Offshore wind will be an important element in the UK's energy mix to keep the lights on, yet the gaps in supply chain, grid and planning to achieve this are monumental. There is money to be made in offshore wind as a structural growth trend, but when?"

  • David Goodall says "This article highlights the possible energy from just one renewable resource in just one part of the country. And the stronger wind resources are on off the west coast not the east. Add to this the tidal, river current, hydro-electric, solar, geothermal and wave resources just shows more than ever that fossil-fuels include nuclear are not required. What is needed is investment to grow the renewables industry to create thousands of jobs in the UK."

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