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National Grid: Exponential wind growth needed to hit green targets

Wind power capacity must grow exponentially if the UK is to hit its 2020 renewables target, according to National Grid models.

That was true even after the network operator scaled back its expectations for offshore wind installation by around 5GW compared to its 2012 central case.

It made up the difference in its Gone Green scenario with lower demand, due to depressed economic growth, and increased coal-to-biomass conversions, driven by changes to government policy. Biomass conversions provide 4GW of power in 2020 in this case.

Gary Dolphin, market outlook manager at National Grid, maintained that meeting all the UK’s green targets was “challenging but achievable”.

Speaking at National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios conference in London, he highlighted that if wind development continued at the rate of the past five years, only 8 per cent of the UK’s energy would come from renewables in 2020. Exponential growth – which he said was plausible given the number of projects in the pipeline – would see the UK hit its 15 per cent target.

Under National Grid’s Gone Green scenario, 9GW of offshore and 8GW of onshore wind will be built by 2020. The offshore requirement alone is equivalent to 14 times the capacity of the London Array, which recently opened as the world’s largest offshore windfarm.

Progress in the next year or two is “absolutely critical to keep us on track”, said Dolphin.

The London Array took seven years from planning consent to launch. If new developments follow a similar trajectory, they will need to get consent in 2013/14 to contribute to the target.

There is 49GW of wind in the pipeline but 38GW of that is only at the scoping stage. At least 6GW of the 38GW will need to be built to fulfil National Grid’s Gone Green expectations.

National Grid also modelled a Slower Growth scenario, under which the UK missed its 2020 renewable target and 2030 carbon target. It “retired” an Accelerated Growth model, with higher take-up of low carbon technologies, in response to feedback that it was not credible.