Such is the ambition of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose new ‘Build Back Better’ plans, revealed at the virtual Conservative Party conference in October 2020, are predicted to create jobs and cut carbon emissions. To achieve this lofty goal, the government is making £160 available million for ports and infrastructure upgrades in the UK where offshore wind capacity has the potential to be increased.
According to the government, this cash injection will lead to the creation of 2,000 construction jobs while also supporting up to 60,000 jobs directly and indirectly in ports, factories, and the supply chain by 2030.
Build Back Better
Other UK government plans include setting a target for doubling up the capacity of renewable energy in the next ‘Contracts for Difference’ auction, which is scheduled to open in late 2021. The government has also committed to creating jobs by onshoring the manufacture of components needed for offshore wind farms and facilities.
In a statement, Boris Johnson said: “Our seas hold immense potential to power our homes and communities with low-cost green energy and we are already leading the way in harnessing its strengths.
A group of offshore wind turbines. Image Credit: Pixabay.
“Now, as we build back better, we must build back greener. So, we are committing to new ambitious targets and investment into wind power to accelerate our progress towards net zero emissions by 2050.”
Johnson went on to add that this will set the UK off on a path to a “green industrial revolution”, which will provide tens of thousands of highly-skilled jobs.
An Ambitious Target
For the UK to be able to build the sort of infrastructure required to power all UK homes through offshore wind—particularly in a COVID-damaged economy—in just nine years is a big, big target.
The target of 2030 also seems potentially unrealistic when you consider the 2050 carbon neutrality goal. This raises the question of what’s going to happen in the two decades between 2030 and 2050: what will other commercial and industrial buildings be powered with?
Although wind needs to be—and indeed will be—a big part of the solution, it can only be that: a part. It’s not the only solution.
Boris Johnson’s bold new vision has also been met by much scrutiny and scepticism.
Scrutiny and Scepticism
Professor Jon Gluyas, director of the Durham Energy Institute at Durham University, commented on the announcement critically: “Electricity generated from offshore wind is not a silver bullet for decarbonising heating nor for decarbonising transport. It is not even a silver bullet for decarbonising power generation.”
Gluyas pointed out that other energy solutions, such as solar thermal, solar photovoltaic, hydropower, biomass, and hydrogen production needed to also be accounted for, and also that buildings will need improved insulation standards.
The Requirements to Meet the Target
According to Aurora Energy Research, an Oxford-based consultancy firm, almost £50 billion in investment and the equivalent of the installation of one turbine every weekday for the whole of the next decade would be required to meet the government’s goal. This would increase the UK’s offshore wind power capacity by four times more than what it is today—which is what is needed to go from its roughly 10 gigawatts in 2020 up to its targeted 40 gigawatts by 2030.
A single wind turbine (positioned close to shore). Image Credit: Pixabay.
Keith Anderson, Chief executive of Scottish Power and one of the biggest investors in Britain’s renewable energy industry, said that “There is no shortage of capital or investor appetite in offshore wind”; however, the speed and size of the industry’s growth will depend on the government’s ability to grant new ocean floor licences and project contracts.
The government plans to attract private sector investment via a major contract auction in the spring of 2021. According to RenewableUK, it’s estimated that this auction alone could secure more than £20 billion in investment and create 12,000 construction sector jobs.