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A hideous Venusian invasion

Boris Johnson’s call for a green energy revolution still leaves an awful lot to be done before the UK can hit net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The Prime Minister’s pledge that every home in the country will be powered by offshore wind within 10 years, committing his Government to a green industrial revolution that will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, is certainly a bold vision.

Johnson has called for offshore wind to power every home in the UK by 2030 which would increase the UK’s offshore wind power capacity by four times what it is today, to reach 40GW by 2030. It will require a huge investment, around £50bn, and need at least one turbine to be installed every week over the next ten years.

It’s certainly interesting to see Johnson make this call when over the past twenty years he has ridiculed wind power, describing wind farms as a “disease” blighting Britain’s countryside and looking like “a hideous Venusian invasion, marching over the moors and destroying the dales“. In fact, over the past ten years the UK’s wind energy industry has proved to be a major success, with offshore turbine capacity growing from 1GW to almost 10GW at the beginning of 2020.

Johnson’s scheme, however, faces a number of hurdles.

There’s the need to speed up the granting of seabed licences and project contracts and in a bid to attract private investment a major contract auction is planned for early 2021, which could secure more than £20bn of investment and create thousands of jobs, according to RenewableUK. Another challenge is that while these new turbines will power UK homes, they only account for around a third of the UK’s total carbon emissions – the rest comes from businesses and offices.

As Lady Brown of Cambridge, deputy chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Climate Change, said: “If we’re to reach net zero UK emissions by 2050, we’ll need to see similarly bold commitments to cut emissions from our buildings, industry, transport and land.”

And while at least 60% of the “content” of offshore wind farms will be made in the UK a functional UK supply chain capable of creating thousands of new jobs is still lacking.

The Government is looking to address that and has announced a £160m investment in upgrading UK ports so that they can manage the new generation of mega-turbines. That could certainly help to create supply chain hubs and grow domestic supply chains.

And finally, fluctuating renewable energy sources such as wind power will require large amounts of energy storage capacity, which will be a critical component to support any growth in offshore wind power.

The UK certainly has the talent and capability to deliver on this Government initiative, but as is often the case with this Government the problem is not so much the rhetoric but the delivery on the ground.

Author
Neil Tyler

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