UK Wind Energy Week 2022 by Nathan Bennett, Head of Public Affairs, RenewableUK.
Our annual Wind Energy Week has always been a period of reflection, where industry establishes how we’d like to see the path ahead unfold. However, it’s rare that we do so alongside a new Government – who’ll also be looking to take forward a new vision for the country.
The great news for the new Prime Minister is that they will inherit an incredibly successful wind industry. World-leading in many respects.
As this year’s Contract for Difference auction results confirmed, wind energy remains the lowest cost form of new electricity generation for the UK businesses and families. In that auction alone we secured enough wind and solar capacity to power 12.5 million homes at a price which will save consumers over £120 a year.
Thanks to its rapid construction times, wind energy offers a quick means by which we can increase our energy security and transition away from expensive and price-volatile gas. In fact, if we didn’t have the renewable energy we have on the grid today, the Government’s imports of Liquified Natural Gas would have to rise by nearly 150% to cover the power generation, which would have cost the UK £30bn in the last year alone.
The Prime Minister won’t only inherit the option of developing a cheap, clean renewable energy technology, but a whole industry too. Offshore wind is already supporting 31,000 jobs across the UK. Delivering 50GW of offshore wind by 2030 will secure a further £155bn of private investment in the UK, increasing the number of offshore wind jobs to 97,000. Delivering 30GW of onshore wind by 2030 will secure 27,000 jobs and £45bn of GVA.
And excitingly, the UK stands to be a world leader in innovative new clean energy technologies – including hydrogen and floating wind – able to capitalise on the future global market for these technologies. Floating wind has the potential to support 37,000 jobs and drive £52bn of GVA by 2050, and we’re already seeing the industrial benefits of green hydrogen production at facilities like ITM Power’s electrolyser factory in Sheffield.
So, what’s our message for the new Prime Minister?
In some respects – it’s ‘keep going’. Targets for offshore wind, floating wind, hydrogen and power decarbonisation set by previous Conservative Governments are achievable and desirable. As important is maintaining the structures and proposed policies reforms to deliver them. Commitment to bodies like the Offshore Wind Acceleration Taskforce and the Floating Wind Taskforce should be rapidly re-confirmed. Policies to expedite planning rapidly progressed.
There’s an urgent need for Government to re-assess the policies being developed by the Truss Government. Some of the proposals to take forward a price cap and, potentially, ill-considered fundamental reforms to the design of the energy market should be looked at again. We need £175bn of investment in wind energy in the next years and there were measures being discussed that would see the UK pay unnecessary premiums on investment due to the damage in confidence in the UK.
However, there were also some very good things about the Truss Government that we should build on. In marked contrast to shale gas, the Government’s decision to allow onshore wind development in England where there’s local support was widely cheered – and certainly wasn’t met with the kind of public backlash that some claimed it would. This in unsurprising, given the vast majority of people are happy to see new onshore wind development.
There was also a really welcome conversation about how net zero could be more pro-growth and pro-business, both in the formation of the Skidmore Review and the focus of Energy Minister Graham Stuart on the UK’s renewable energy supply chain. The new Government should continue this new focus on ensuring the UK maximises the jobs and industrial benefit of wind energy growth, as opposed to just focusing on the benefits of getting GWs of cheap, clean energy onto the grid (as welcome as that is!). This means reforming our system of clean power auctions, unlocking more investment in port infrastructure, enhancing our support for innovation, and more.
Finally, I was pleased to see the significance of grid constraints starting to rise up the political agenda – finally being recognised by political commentators like James Forsyth. I would hope that any new Government would continue to progress the Energy Security Bill, not least because of its implication for hydrogen investment. However, if we could ask for one change it would be to use the Bill to reform the remit of Ofgem to include Net Zero or power decarbonisation. Ofgem needs to start investing in grid ahead of time to support the development of low-cost renewable energy. As the Energy Security Strategy acknowledged, doing so would ultimately be in the interests of billpayers.
So, what’s our message for the new Prime Minister? Westminster, we hope you’ll join us in celebrating the UK’s world leading wind energy industry. For billpayers, for our economy, our energy security and for the future of our planet.