The UK Government has laid down targets that are encouraging energy companies to build 33 GW of offshore wind farms by 2020.

Government regulation

By 2020, the UK Government requires to have 15% of all UK energy needs (not just electricity) supplied by renewables.

Centrica is one of the firms to have heeded this call and is investing £3billion in alternative energy, which includes a £300million offshore wind-farm under construction off the Lincolnshire coast.

Developing new wind farms

The Thames Estuary Wind-Farm

An area 12 miles off the Kent and Essex coast is the proposed site of what would be one of the world’s biggest off-shore wind-farms: the London Array. If built, the development would feature 341 turbines, situated in the outer Thames Estuary between the Kentish Knock and Long Sands banks.

Proponents suggest that the Array could generate up to 1000MW of electricity – enough to satisfy the electricity demand of about 750,000 homes each year.

The project was recently thrown into doubt when Shell, one of the original backers, pulled out, citing rising steel costs, marginal operating returns and problems with the supply of wind turbines and support infrastructure (such as servicing ships).

Issues facing wind farm construction

While wind is never going to run out, current economic conditions mean realising the Government’s target will be difficult. The world price of steel has increased greatly in recent years, as has the price of turbines: suppliers such as Siemens are currently at capacity. As a result, the estimated cost of delivering the plan has increased from £40bn to £80bn.  Once built, though, the costs of electricity produced by wind farms is not dependent on global fuel markets, as would be the case to varying degrees for gas, coal and nuclear power plants.


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