The UK risks losing up to 1.3GW of low carbon electricity generating capacity over the next five years unless a generation of ageing wind turbines is replaced, a new report warns.
The study, published today (27 March) by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), says that around 750 wind turbines, will have to be dismantled over the upcoming half decade.
The study says that these wind farms, which are scattered over nearly 60 sites, were installed around the turn of the millennium when turbine technology was less developed and costs higher.
“Repowering” these sites and taking advantage of the plunging prices of onshore wind would yield a net increase in low carbon capacity of more than 1.3GW, which is equivalent to more than 3 terawatt hours (TWh) per year.
The report also estimates that the power generated by these repowered wind farms would save more than £77 million per year compared with obtaining it from more expensive gas-fired power stations. It says the electricity generated by replacement wind farms would be considerably cheaper than that generated at the existing sites because larger and more technologically advanced modern turbines are able to generate two to three times more electricity than those built 20 years ago.
As an example of the greater efficiencies which can be delivered by the modern wind power technology, the report points to the upgrade of the Delabole wind farm in Cornwall, one of the first to be built in the UK when it came into service in 1991.
It was upgraded between 2009 and 2011, during which time capacity was increased from 4MW to 9.2MW despite a cut in the number of turbines from ten to four.
The report proposes that while new wind farms would not require subsidy, they could be offered contract for difference (CfD) style deals with a fixed price over a fixed period for the electricity they generate.
The replacement of this generating capacity threatens to fall foul of the government’s manifesto policy to maintain an embargo on onshore wind farm development, except for the remote Scottish islands.
Wind farms typically have planning permission for 20 years which is also the lifespan of the renewable obligation certificate
However, energy minister Claire Perry said last week in an interview with The House magazine that she wanted to allow onshore wind farms to compete in CfD auctions where they enjoy public backing.
The report says: “Giving developers freedom to repower these soon-to-retire wind farms would help put the country back on track to meeting climate change targets, would reduce energy bills and reliance on gas imports, reinvigorate a ‘made in Britain’ industrial supply chain. And it is an opportunity that ministers can grasp now, given the substantial stock of eligible projects becoming available in the coming few years.”
Jonathan Marshall, ECIU energy analyst, said: “Modern turbines generate vastly more power than older ones at costs competitive with coal and gas fired generation, especially when located onshore.
“It makes sense to repower sites of the earliest wind farms, which tend to be in locations that have the best wind resource. Existing infrastructure including network connections can also be reused or upgraded at costs lower than for new sites.”
Simon Clarke, Conservative MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, said: “For those worried about the 1 per cent of UK gas imports that come from Mr Putin, these upgrades would also reduce our reliance on imported fuel by the equivalent of two gas-fired power stations; and if we don’t allow developers to repower them, we may lose them for good.”
Fabrice Leveque, senior policy manager of Scottish Renewables, welcomed the report: “This report demonstrates the potential for repowering of Scotland’s fleet of onshore wind turbines, and specifically the £77 million per year which doing so would save compared with obtaining electricity from gas.
“Our onshore wind farms deliver 8,000 jobs, £12 million a year in community benefit payments, and considerable economic benefits to Scotland. As the oldest of them begin to approach the end of their operational life government and industry must work together to ensure those benefits are secure.”
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