Offshore wind’s contribution to the climate challenge
Given that we are a long way from the sea this isn’t the most obvious topic for a Wallington Climate Action Group talk! Nevertheless, it proved to be a highly relevant and fascinating topic. We were lucky to get Alastair Dutton, an international expert in offshore wind, to talk to us for an hour one January evening. This event is the start of our new project on Homes and Energy.
The UK is leading the world in energy from offshore wind – producing 10.4 GW of electricity out of the global total of 29.3 GW. The UK has recently set a challenging target of 40 GW by 2030. Many other countries are now looking to expand their offshore wind capacity. Those countries with deeper sea beds can look to use floating wind foundations rather than fix the turbines to the sea bed.
There are tens of thousands of jobs in this industry and they are surprisingly spread out across the country; inland as well as coastal. Close by, HR Wallingford employs staff who work in this sector.
Furthermore, there are many reasons why offshore wind is often preferred to onshore; the wind is stronger, you can build at a bigger scale and have bigger turbines and the life of the site is longer due to the wind being less turbulent. Onshore projects are often cancelled as there is more controversy over the locations. Over the years offshore wind turbines have increased massively in size which means the cost has come down dramatically; a third compared to eight years ago. Clearly, wind is the energy source of the future, for instance, offshore wind is only a third the cost of nuclear energy.
However, there are nevertheless some issues still to be overcome in the future. Although 90% of the steel and copper can be recycled in the decommissioning stage, the blades aren’t yet fully recyclable. Whilst there are some innovative options for the re-use of this material, such as a children’s playground in Rotterdam using material from the blades, there is still a small but significant part not in the circular economy. Moreover, wind turbines use rare earth elements (REE) and an 11 to 26 fold expansion of REE supply is needed to meet global wind-power targets. Notably however, demand for these metals also comes from everyday items like phones or computers.
A common concern for many is that birds are killed by turbines. In fact for every one bird killed by a wind turbine 8,700 are killed by some other form of human activity (for example pet cats, flying into windows).
There are easy actions we can all take, such as buying our energy from a green energy company like Good Energy, Ecotricity or Octopus to name just a few. Additionally, we can reduce the amount of energy we are using by improving home insulation. The Watlington Climate Action Group will have more information coming out through the Homes and Energy project.
Jeannette and Alex Wooster – Watlington Climate Action Group