Storm Ellen powers UK wind farms to new generation record

Wind power provided almost 60 per cent of the UK’s electricity in the early hours of Saturday morning, providing a fresh milestone ahead of a busy week for the fast-expanding industry

Wind farms provided their highest ever share of electricity to the UK grid over the weekend, as Storm Ellen’s gale force winds saw turbines produce 13.5GW of power in the early hours of Saturday morning.

According to data from grid operator National Grid ESO, the wind industry chalked up yet another record as offshore and onshore wind farms provided 59.1 per cent of Britain’s electricity mix at 1am on Saturday

Coming in the early hours of the morning, the record was made possible by low overnight demand for power from the grid combined with unusually high output from wind farms thanks to the storm conditions.

Nevertheless, it signals yet another major milestone for the UK’s rapidly growing renewable energy sector, which last year provided more than a third of UK power on average throughout 2019 as capacity from wind, solar, biomass and other technologies continues to grow. A series of further records have been chalked up during the first half of the year, as reduced power demand as a result of the UK’s coronavirus lockdown provided a further boost to renewables share of the power mix.

Costs are also coming down rapidly. The latest costs assessment released by the government yesterday show that wind and solar are now the cheapest form of new power generation available on a levelised cost of energy (LCOE) basis and are poised to deliver continued cost reductions in the years to come.

Under the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) cost projection scenarios released yesterday, the estimated levelised cost of energy (LCOE) for wind power could fall to a once inconceivably £36 per megawatt hour by 2040, having stood at £106/MWh in 2016.

However, concerns have frequently been raised that continued and improved policy support is required to realise the full potential of wind power in the UK, especially onshore where the biggest cost reductions are on offer.

Analysis released yesterday by energy consultancy Cornwall Insight warned the UK’s current 13GW fleet of onshore turbines could even start to reduce in capacity from 2027 when accreditations under the previous Renewable Obligation Certificate (ROC) subsidy regime end.

The industry has long called for a greater focus on ensuring older onshore wind farms are upgraded – ‘or repowered’ – before their current lifespans come to an end in order to avoid any reduction in the UK’s renewable energy capacity.

Cornwall Insight provided further ammunition for those urging the government to provide an effective policy and planning framework that would enable the repowering of existing sites, with the report arguing upgrading current wind farms could play a key role in meeting the UK’s net zero emissions target.

“Cornwall Insight’s forecast shows that between 2027 and 2030 up to 3.6GW of existing onshore wind assets could drop out of the Renewable Obligation scheme, with the majority approaching the end of an assumed 20-25 year economic lifespan, making repowering and extensions key to meeting GB’s net zero goal,” explained wholesale manager James Brabben. “The trends show how some existing site owners are gearing up for the new world of onshore wind development. With an ageing existing fleet, this area is set to become a very active space, with sites needing to be very efficient to be viable.”

However, some developers remain concerned that a combination of planning restrictions and challenges upgrading grid connections could hamper the repowering of existing sites.

Separately, progress is continuing with the UK’s efforts to build out more much-needed offshore wind power capacity to help push the country towards its statutory 2050 net zero emissions target.

This week Equinor announced it has signed agreements with The Crown Estate to double the size of two of the UK’s largest offshore wind projects – Sheringham and Dudgeon – off the North Norfolk coast. The planned expansion would see the two projects together offering 1.4GW of capacity, which would be enough to power more than 1.5 million average UK homes.

And today German energy giant RWE said it had completed the installation of 90 turbine foundations and power export cables at its Triton Knoll project off the Lincolnshire coast, bringing the £2bn wind farm closer to its scheduled completion date of early 2022.

Jointly owned by RWE – which holds a 59 per cent stake – alongside J-Power and Kansai Electric Power, the wind farm is expected to have a final capacity of 857MW, delivering enough power to meet demand from over 800,000 UK homes.

Tom Glover, RWE Renewables’s chief commercial officer and RWE UK country chair, described the UK as “one of the most important markets” for the firm for RWE, adding that it has “significant growth ambitions in offshore wind”.

“Following in the footsteps of Triton Knoll will be our 1.4GW Sofia offshore wind farm, which has a potential investment value of around £3bn,” he said. “We are also looking forward to developing a number of extension projects to our existing UK offshore wind farms, in connection with opportunities arising from The Crown Estate’s latest leasing round.”

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