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News Extra: UK wind energy generation reaches 11% of total in 2015

01 March 2016

Official statistics from the National Grid show that 2015 was a record year for UK wind energy generation, with onshore and offshore wind farms supplying 11% of electricity generated  – up from 9.5% in 2014.

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Stock image

Wind also broke the quarterly generation record in the three month period from October to December 2015, with 13% of the nation’s electricity demand met by wind - beating the previous 12% high in the first quarter of 2015.

Investment in offshore wind generation reached £8.4bn last year, while that for onshore wind farms more than doubled to £2.6bn.

The 11% of UK electricity generated by wind power in 2015 comprises 5.8% onshore and 5.2% offshore. In 2014, the figures were respectively 5.5% and 4%. Overall, 21% of the UK’s electricity came from renewable energy sources in 2015.

In Germany, the furthest along the road towards full renewable generation in Europe, wind provided 13.3% of electricity last year out of a total for renewables of 30%.

The surge in UK wind farm investment has continued into 2016, with the announcement in early February by Danish group DONG Energy that it would go ahead with Hornsea Project One 120 km off the East Yorkshire coast. DONG said the 407 sq km site, expected to be operational by 2020, would be the world's largest offshore wind farm.

Turbines will be manufactured by Siemens in its newly-built Hull factory and 2,000 jobs will be created during construction. The project will employ 300, directly and indirectly, when it was running.

But some experts think recent changes in the support regime for renewables alongside other factors could seriously restrict wind power expansion in the UK over the next few years.

The impact of the Government’s end to wind subsidies and its manifesto pledge to halt the spread of onshore windfarms could bring an end to investment in the sector.

Critics of the Government say onshore wind power is the best and cheapest opportunity the UK has of hitting its environmental targets. But the industry still needs support before it can stand on its own two feet, according to some analysts, who point out that nuclear and fossil-fuel power stations also receive subsidies.

Also at issue are restrictions on the size of turbines, which are limited in the UK to 125 metres. The latest generation of turbines can top 200 metres and are more efficient, and therefore cheaper, than smaller models.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Anders Runevad, chief executive of Vestas Wind Systems, said his company's wind turbines can compete onshore against any other source of energy in the UK without need for state support, but only if the Government removes impediments to a free market, including height restrictions and inconsistencies in the planning approval system.

Amber Rudd, Secretary of Energy and Climate Change, drastically revised policy last year, announcing that support for onshore wind would be cut from April 2016. She said 250 wind farms in the planning phase were unlikely to be built as a result but insisted that Britain was “reaching the limits of what is affordable, and what the public is prepared to accept”.

Average purchase prices for wind power in the US have fallen to only 2.35 cents per kilowatt/hour (KWh), according to the US Energy Department, a similar level to prices for coal and gas across many states. And a report in January from Bank of America estimated that onshore wind is either the cheapest or close to being the cheapest source of energy in most regions globally.

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