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UK Wind – A Powerful Force

ImageThe UK wind industry is poised on the brink of a major expansion that will see it become the chief contributor to UK targets on renewables. Research from the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) shows that a combined capacity of 25GW could be in place by 2020, meeting the needs of two-thirds of all UK homes and delivering major economic benefits to the UK of more than £16 billion.

By Maria McCaffery, Chief Executive Officer, British Wind Energy Association
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The UK renewables industry is poised at a very interesting stage in its development.

The results of the Government’s Energy Review have put the sector firmly on the map. We are moving away from the notion of wind turbines, solar panels and the like as nothing more than alternative technologies, which will not contribute a great deal to energy security or reducing emissions and are certainly not big business.

The reality is that wind power is the fastest growing energy source worldwide, and companies are investing now, from venture capitalists to utilities to international corporations. Wind and the other renewables are now mainstream, set to generate a fifth of the UK’s future electricity needs.
However, getting there won’t be easy.

Onshore wind, the real workhorse of renewables delivery, has been beset by many challenges in its 15-year history since the first commercial wind farm started operating in the UK. Planning, infrastructure and financing, as well as military and civil radar and seismic detection problems, have all presented hurdles. Most of these are now largely overcome, and the process has started again with the move of the industry offshore. Along the way valuable lessons have been learned, which can be transferred to the other renewable technologies and, one hopes, ensure for them a more rapid move to market and commercial scale deployment.
Now that the stakes have been made clear – an equal share in the UK power portfolio with conventional generation – the time is right for the sector to really think like an industry rather than as a cluster of separate entities, albeit with some important common ground, and work together for the greater good. All renewables have their role to play in the sustainable energy future the Government has laid out; achieving this will need a strong hand at the helm and a clear, strong voice in the discussions.

Hailing as I do from a background steeped in international business support, I am acutely conscious of the great potential the sector has down the line.  If we play our cards right the UK could position itself as a major global supplier of renewables technology and expertise, and develop a home-grown industry employing thousands and selling to many more. Manufacturing facilities for all technologies need to be encouraged in the UK, requiring a coordinated approach which encompasses policy, R&D, Health & Safety (where we are already leading the way) and a strategy emphasising the role of the regions in attracting businesses into the sector.

The new face of the renewables industry as a mainstream power provider needs a grown-up and business-like approach to protecting and promoting its members’ interests. The days of rallying behind the green flag are now past; we need to move in unity towards the low carbon economy of the future, generating not just electricity sustainably but heat and transport fuels as well, and together tackling the twin challenges of climate change and energy security.
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