There’s no Planet B Clean our Seas, Save our Bees, Plant More Trees; these slogans, along with the help of Sir David Attenborough, have brought climate change to the forefront of popular culture, but how can society look to tackle climate change and reduce Green House Gas (GHG) Emissions whilst still generating electricity? This article explores how renewable energy, and offshore wind in particular, must continue to lead the way to decarbonise the economy. 

The push to develop renewable energy sources is partly driven by widespread and growing international concern about global warming, climate change and GHG emissions. At the Conference of Parties 24 (COP24), held in December 2018, a set of rules for the Paris climate process were agreed to limit global temperature increase to below 2°C, while pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C above the pre-industrial average temperature. This was in part in response to the Intergovernmental Part of Climate Change (IPCC) report Global Warming of 1.5°C, whichpresented a very stark reminder that we might not reach these targets without considerable global effort to reduce GHG emissions. This also is the case in the UK, as the Committee on Climate Change Report to Parliament detailed that the UK Government’s current plans and proposals are not on track to meet carbon budgets (CCC, 2018).

The good news is that the upswing in renewable energy generation is actively assisting the UK’s decarbonisation efforts. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) have reported the provisional GHG Emissions for 2018 and the energy supply sector experienced the largest reduction in CO2 emissions from 2017 – 2018. This reduction has largely been driven by a shift to using renewables. Nuclear and renewables accounted for 47% of fuel used for electricity generation in 2018, up from 22% in 1990 (BEIS, 2019). The energy supply sector in the UK has seen a 59% reduction in CO2 emissions since 1990, largely in part due to the continuing investment and development of renewable energy.

Offshore wind in the UK has seen 25,893,323 tonnes of CO2 reduction per annum (RenewableUK, 2019) from 36 operational projects and this is set to increase as more projects become operational. Offshore and onshore wind are the biggest source of renewable energy in the UK, contributing to 13.8% of national electricity generation (6.5% more than coal, oil, and gas). This shift in the electricity generation mix will continue to see CO2 reduction in years to come.

Notwithstanding the evidence that offshore wind is undoubtedly a cleaner and greener form of energy for electricity generation than fossil fuels, there are fossil fuels involved in the construction, operation and maintenance of offshore windfarms. This ranges from turbinemanufacturing to transportation, however research has found that just 2% of energy consumption is attributable to the O&M stage (Chipindula et al., 2018).

The offshore wind industry is continuing to grow, and turbine sizes have increased significantly in recent years. The larger the turbine, the higher the percentage of material and energy use in the manufacturing process, however, studies have found that larger turbines have shorter CO2 payback times due to their higher capacity factors. 2.3 MW wind turbine requires 11 months to offset the energy used in its production and a 5 MW wind turbine is paid off in 9.6 months (Chipindula et al., 2018). As 20MW turbines are now being put forward in planning applications in the UK this finding is something which must be considered when comparing the benefits of offshore wind versus fossil fuels for electricity generation.

In the UK it is important that we use the benefits of living on an Island nation; whilst we love to complain about the weather it is something that we can harness for good and continue to use to decarbonise our economy.

Royal HaskoningDHV are global leaders in offshore wind feasibility, consenting and post compliance support across the UK and Europe. We look forward to supporting our clients in upcoming Crown Estate Round 4 and Crown Estate Scotland Scotwind processes and seeing how the Spring 2019 Contracts for Difference auction progress as we continue use our market experience to support the development of the offshore wind sector and enhance society together.  

References

Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (2019) Renewable Energy. Available at: https://www.c2es.org/content/renewable-energy/

Committee on Climate Change (2018) Reducing UK Emissions. 2018 Progress Report to Parliament. June 2018. Available at: https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/CCC-2018-Progress-Report-to-Parliament.pdf#page=37

Chipindila, J., Botlaguduru, V.S.V., Du, H., Kommalapati., R.R., and Huque, Z. (2018) Life Cycle Environmental Impact of Onshore and Offshore Wind Farms in Texas. Sustainability, 10, 2022.

RenewableUK (2019) UK Wind Energy Database. Available at: https://www.renewableuk.com/page/UKWEDhome

BEIS (2019) 2018 UK Provisional Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/790086/2018-provisional-emissions-statistics-one-page-summary.pdf