Renewables, particularly wind and solar feature prominently as part of the UK’s future energy mix. Energy independence from unstable international prices and political independence in terms of secure imports, providing economic growth and the creation of jobs are some of the driving factors. With subsidies, many companies jumped at the opportunity as a viable commercial and profitable venture.
In less than ten years, wind energy’s contribution to the UK electricity needs has grown from less than 1% to 10% with 13,313 MW generating capacity, according to Renewable UK, making wind energy the UK’s single biggest source of renewable power, hallmarked by a £1.25bn investment in 2014-15.
But the sector has continued to face a series of challenges, one being a policy to halt new onshore wind farms. Another being their intermittency. Wind turbines for example will require back-up gas plants when there is insufficient wind blowing. They take up a lot of land or sea space and are visually intrusive. PV cells are optimised by having constant sunlight but efficiencies of 10-30% are a significant drawback. There are worldwide intensive research efforts to improve and optimise these parameters but there is a long way to go.
Looking forward, wind energy is now at a cross roads. Difficult choices face the sector with uncertain policies. A balancing act of the concrete decisions on nuclear power is likely to formulate which direction wind energy blows. However, as fossil fuels are reduced, covering the need to cover the shortfall in energy supply will continue to increase in the coming years and decades, and if we want to meet this demand, wind energy will need to play a continuing role in the UK’s energy mix.
Dilwar Hussain is a Ph.D. student at The University Of Sheffield