The Wind of Change

Wind. One of the oldest forms of energy used by man. Whether to power boats enabling early hunter gatherers and explorers to search further afield, or windmills built by farmers to grind corn.
Wind fell out of favour in the industrial revolution when it was overtaken by fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas as a means of providing energy. Although it remained popular with recreational sailors and children flying kites, its industrial or commercial value was largely ignored.
Today, however, it is making a big resurgence, with wind energy being one of the fastest growing industrial sectors in the world, generating a whole raft of new jobs and with it new wealth.  On Global Wind Day, let’s take a look at the power of wind.
The UK is already the world leader in offshore wind generation, capable of generating 5.3 gigawatts, enough to power 4.3million homes. The UK is in the best location in Europe for wind power, with high average wind speeds, and seemingly a constant supply! On 6th June this year, one tenth of UK power came from offshore wind farms.
New, record breaking wind turbines are now in use off the coast of Liverpool. Some of the turbines at Burbe Bank are over 195m tall and are the first of their kind installed anywhere in the world. Using larger turbines means they cost less to operate – fewer are needed to generate the same amount of energy, and the knock-on effect is a less invasive infrastructure with lower maintenance costs. The costs of generating power from these offshore wind turbines is falling faster than anyone expected providing a cheaper supply of energy supply.
A further 8 projects are underway in the UK which will increase capacity by a further 8%, and more wind farms are being planned.
2017 marks 25 years since the UK’s first commercial wind farm was built – right here in Cornwall at Delabole. During its lifetime, it has produced enough energy to boil 3.4bn kettles!
When the wind farm was first proposed, it was dismissed as being unworkable and uneconomical. People were concerned the turbines would spoil their view and ruin their peace, and they were justified on the noise angle. Today, however, wind farms are a common feature of our landscape, and engineering has improved so much that they are much quieter. Delabole is now one of 10,000 onshore wind projects in this country.
Renewables now account for about a quarter of electricity generated in the UK. Last week, on 7th June, renewables generated more energy than gas and coal combined. Wind, solar, hydro and burning wood pellets supply 50.7% of UK energy and if nuclear is added in, that takes it to a whopping 72.1%!
The move to renewables is gathering pace worldwide because it makes not only environmental sense, the sums add up as well.
Germany, Denmark and Belgium have recently signed up to supporting a 500% increase in offshore wind capacity over the next decade. They are not only aiming at providing for their own use, but they have a vision of increasing renewable energy provision worldwide.
Germany is also about to build a wind farm without any government subside. There are businesses who can see the commercial benefits of investing in renewables and don’t need incentives.
So, why should we demand more renewable energy?
Well, there are the environmental benefits. Fossil fuels cause air, water and land pollution. We only have to look at the smog in cities and the devastation caused by oil spills to see the effects of our use of fossil fuels. Wind, water and solar energy are only harnessing energy that is already there and there are no nasty side effects.
Coal mines, oil rigs and spoil heaps all put a strain on our natural environment. As renewable energy becomes more sophisticated, so it is likely to cause less visual impact. We have already seen the move to fewer, larger wind turbines. Solar panels now masquerade as normal roof tiles, and testing is ongoing to make a roads and streets into energy generators. There are a lot of exciting ideas in development.
As new technology comes into play, so the costs of generating renewable energy make it a cheaper option than mining or drilling for fossil fuels, and if there is one thing both suppliers and consumers like, it’s cheap energy.
Renewable energy can boost the economy in rural areas. Where there is space for wind turbines or solar panels, these could be a source of much needed employment and income for local communities. Community energy schemes can help reduce energy bills for residents . In very remote areas without access to gas or electricity, renewable energy can bring the 21st century to properties for the first time.
Wind and sun are available all over the planet, unlike reserves of coal, oil and gas. Over the past century or so, we have seen wars and political difficulties with many different causes. However, there is almost always an underlying element of access to oil, gas or coal, or the means of transporting them elsewhere.
If every country could generate their own energy, there is less need to fight to protect an oil well or pipeline, and no country could be held hostage by another. In other words, countries will be much more secure from outside influence.
So how can we as energy consumers, support the move towards renewable energy?
In the first instance, check your current supplier. What are their green credentials? Do they offer a Green Supply Tariff where some or all of the electricity you buy is matched by purchases of renewable energy, including nuclear free options. Check you are on a green tariff – the more we as consumers demand renewable energy, the more the suppliers will make it available.
Some suppliers also operate Green Funds whereby you pay a premium to support the development of renewable energy. If you can afford to, subscribe to these – they could result in cheaper and more reliable fuel for the future.
On a larger scale, towns, cities and large businesses could investigate District Heating Networks whereby several organisations collaborate to make the best use of renewables and other energy sources, sharing technology and providing power where it is needed and when.
Probably the most important thing though for all of us is to control energy usage. This will not only reduce your costs, but will decrease overall demand. And as the advert says ‘every little helps’.

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