A number of different energy companies have spoken out about the effect that the green subsidy cuts will have on their ability to renew ageing wind farms.
It is estimated that around one thousand existing wind turbines will reach the end of their lives in the next ten years. They are designed to last between twenty to twenty-five years and many will be put out of action over the course of the next parliament. The UK has around 924 wind turbines that began operating before 2004- according to the industry organisation RenewableUK.
The department of energy and climate change still maintain that they want to help enable renewable sources of energy “stand on their own two feet”. However, many organisations from within the industry have claimed that the government are making this impossible with the current changes to policy.
“Repowering” Old Turbines
In addition to the “repowering” or upgrading of existing pieces of technology that are going out of date, there is a growing need for this equipment to be replaced with newer machinery. The most recently developed wind turbines are around three times taller and ten times more efficient that those created back in the 90s.
There was widespread optimism within the industry that updated existing wind farms in optimal locations would provide an easy way to up the energy production without having to build other farms in new areas. However, many companies are now hesitant to build new turbines because of the uncertainty surrounding sources of funding.
The Western Europe projects director for RES, Rachel Ruffle, believes that the changes to government policy would prove decisive in determining the future of ageing wind farms.
“Exacerbating The Energy Gap”
She went on to say:
“Repowering clearly illustrates the need for long-term policymaking to deliver longer term investor confidence. Put simply, if the wind farms that are reaching their life-spans during the 2020s and 2030s are not replaced it will serve to exacerbate the problem of the energy ‘gap’ the UK currently faces.”
The managing director and head of renewable energy at John Laing, Ross McArthur, said:
“It’s a no-brainer; you get more bang for your buck with more energy from fewer turbines. Even from a visual impact point of view, you’re replacing larger numbers with fewer, albeit taller, turbines.”
UK Market “More or Less Gone”
Despite believing that there will be a rise in the number of projects such as these across the EU in the coming years, Mr McArthur commented that the market in the UK was “more or less gone”.
Mike Parker, the head of UK onshore wind at RWE Innogy (a renewable subsidiary of RWE Group), believes that they may be forced to pull out of the planned replacement of old turbines in Wales.
Mr Parker said:
“We have a site in Cumbria that’s currently 12 turbines, and we have a planning application to turn that into a six-turbine site that delivers three times more output. The decision we’ve got though is, it may be more sensible given the current climate to eke out the life of a 20-plus year-old asset, with technology that’s 20 years out of date,”
The Department of Energy and Climate Change commented on the topic saying:
“Our priority is providing clean, affordable and secure energy that hard-working families and businesses can rely on. We want to protect bill payers, ensuring technologies stand on their own two feet whilst also meeting our renewable energy commitments.”
The government has pledge to renewables accounting for 30% of energy production by 2020.