Jessica Knowles looks at how onshore wind will continue to play a key role in the UK’s renewable energy future.
The UK has a legally-binding target to source 15 percent of its energy from renewables by 2020. Electricity supplier Good Energy believes that we shouldn’t stop there, however, and has developed a pathway that can lead the UK to generating 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050. The company’s research shows that around half will come from offshore wind, a quarter from onshore wind and the remainder from other renewable technologies.
While offshore wind is still in its infancy, onshore wind is a more mature technology and is now entering its “second generation”. Good Energy’s own wind farm, at Delabole on the North Cornwall coast, has recently been redeveloped with the support of the local community to take advantage of new technical advances – it’s proved a fantastic example of how the UK can harness nature’s resources more efficiently.
Delabole was the UK’s first commercial wind farm, set up in 1991 by the Edwards family to counter plans for a nuclear power station in the area. Good Energy bought the wind farm in 2002, though the Edwards continue to play a role in the business. Martin Edwards explains how he sees the future of onshore wind: “It lies in small to medium sized turbines built on farms and industrial sites alike, which will become a normalised part of business, softening the blow of the inevitable growth in electricity prices.”
The other key driver for change will be continuing improvements in onshore wind technology, which will lead not only to greater efficiency, but also open up other less windy sites to the benefits of wind generation. “There is also likely to be a surge in commercial wind farm applications situated on lower wind speed sites due to advances in technology,” Edwards says.
In 2007 Good Energy embarked on a £12 million project to make the most of better turbine technology and redevelop the Delabole wind farm. From the outset it recognised the importance of involving the local community in the plans. The company offered local residents a choice between replacing the 10 original turbines with either 9 smaller or 6 larger turbines. Photomontages illustrated their impact on the landscape and gave information about the carbon savings for each option. The larger ones won by an overwhelming majority.
With such strong community support, the project took just nine months to get through the planning process, which is very good going for such a project.
Edwards believes Delabole to be a role model for other developers to emulate: “The case of Delabole only emphasises the importance of involving the community in future onshore wind farm developments across the country. I hope this management style will become more frequently used and will serve to reduce the fear of the unknown which is a major cause of objections.”
The process of wind farm development can be challenging for residents in a rural area, with huge pieces of machinery having to be manoeuvred along small country lanes. However, keeping residents informed at every stage can foster reciprocal support.
“The wind farm at Delabole is as much a part of this village as our slate quarry,” said Delabole resident Sonia Hawkey. “Having turbines back on Deli Farm gives us back the ‘Delabolian’ panorama, taking in Roughtor, Brown Willy and the Atlantic, and best appreciated from the edge of the quarry with the wind in your face.”
Delabole 1st/2nd generation The redevelopment was completed in December 2010. The four new, larger turbines (99.5m to tip height) have increased the generating capacity of the wind farm by two and a half times, saving over 13,700 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. Yes, the Delabole turbines are now visible from further away, but local residents clearly feel it’s worthwhile – in fact they often ask why Good Energy can’t fit more turbines on the site.
The greater turbine height allows for a more consistent wind, less affected by turbulence caused by obstructions such as buildings and trees. And as they’re gearless with fewer moving parts, the new turbines require less maintenance and can perform at higher wind speeds owing to improvements in technology. They are more expensive to install initially, but they’re more cost effective over time thanks to their higher power output.
Juliet Davenport, founder and CEO of Good Energy, explains her delight at “taking Delabole into its second generation of onshore wind power. The increased capacity of the new turbines serves to illustrate how successful innovation in this field has been over the last two decades. With projects like this, the UK moves ever closer to a 100% renewable future.”
The windiest country in Europe, the UK currently gets just 2.2 percent of its electricity needs from wind power. Provided local communities are involved, onshore wind has a clear role to play in a 100 percent renewable future.
Jessica Knowles is Good Energy’s wind farm project developer. goodenergy.co.uk