Just off the coast of Yorkshire in England, 174 wind turbines cut through the air, capturing energy and turning it into electricity, enough to power more than a million homes. The Hornsea One project, inaugurated this year, is the largest operating wind farm in the world. Walney Extension, with 87 turbines – It is not too far out on the Irish Sea. Both are among the a handful of large-scale offshore wind farms which was built in the last half decade in the UK, prompting the country’s transition to renewable energy.
Upgrading Offshore Wind Power in the UK – With almost 11 GW of installed capacity, more than any other country in the world – it offers a way forward for a world that aspires to move away from fossil fuels. This is particularly notable for a nation that once depended on coal – just a decade ago, around 40% of UK electricity came from coal. In 2019, that figure dropped to around 2%, and by 2024, the government aims to phase out coal entirely. Today 44% of UK electricity It comes from renewable sources, a figure that is expected to grow to meet the UK’s climate targets of net zero emissions by 2050 and 40 GW of offshore wind by 2030.
A number of factors have helped the UK take on a global leadership position in offshore wind, but the last few years have been particularly productive, he explains. Duncan clark, the UK region head for Ørsted, the renewable energy company that developed and manages the Hornsea One offshore wind farm: “The offshore wind sector agreement agreed with the UK government has allowed for ever closer collaboration between government and industry, reinforcing the effectiveness and stable regulatory regime for offshore wind that has given developers, supply chain companies and the financial sector the confidence to invest. This, in turn, has supported and fostered innovation, while providing the competitive tension necessary to reduce prices at an unprecedented rate. “
Increasing offshore wind power is essential to accelerating the global energy transition, which many energy experts agree relies on large-scale electrification. Built offshore, offshore wind farms can provide stable utility-scale green energy without occupying precious land area. This transformation looks more and more like a reality: the Ocean Renewables Energy Action Coalition recently suggested that 1,400GW of offshore wind is possible by 2050, which could drive one-tenth of global electricity demand and save more than 3 billion metric tons of CO2 per year.
Green Electric Spine
“When you look at the broad pathways to net zero for the entire economy, it’s the energy sector, zero-carbon electricity, the backbone of all of that,” he says Melissa lott, Principal Investigator at the Center for Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. In his research, which models the technical pathways to decarbonisation, Lott explains that “one of the key messages that comes through is that we need more electricity,” so that all fossil fuel-burning technologies can be phased out.
The cost of renewable energy has also plummeted in the last decade. Today, the power of wind and solar power are cheaper than energy from energy derived from fossil fuels in more than two-thirds of the world’s countries, according to BloombergNEF. The cost of electricity from offshore wind has dropped by more than 66% since 2012, making it cheaper to build offshore wind farms than new fossil fuel power plants in northwestern Europe.
However, despite falling costs, there is still a long way to go towards a global green energy transition. According to a recent analysis According to the International Energy Agency, only 28% of electricity worldwide comes from renewable sources, while around 60% comes from coal and gas. To build a livable future, it will be necessary to phase out oil and gas production as quickly as possible, while renewable energy becomes the foundation of a new economy.
Beyond the lower costs, more will need to be done to incentivize the rapid deployment of renewables, such as accelerating permitting and offshore wind siting, where the UK offers unique lessons.
“One of the things that we’ve seen in a lot of different jurisdictions is this idea of streamlining planning and environmental processes to be able to lease large tracts of land for offshore wind,” says Lott, referring to permitting and leasing of land to utility-scale renewable energy. “The UK has really moved forward when it comes to this leasing process.”
Even larger offshore wind projects are currently under development, helping the UK to reach 40 GW. “We have now started offshore construction at Hornsea Two, which will be even larger at 1.4 GW, and we have Hornsea Three and Four currently in the planning and development process, so there is much more to come,” he says. Clark.
“The size and scale of offshore wind farms have increased considerably in recent years and we are now seeing a new generation of projects taking shape,” he adds.
It is also essential that projects are rigorously vetted through environmental standards and designed with an understanding of the marine ecosystem. “It is necessary to know the conditions of the seabed, the depth of the water, the movement of the seabed, [and] wave patterns, “he says Christina Aabo, Head of Offshore Wind Research and Development at Ørsted. Aabo points out that this research process can take a few years.
In the future, Aabo anticipates there will be major offshore wind power centers, which can transmit power through many interconnected pathways in the form of a mesh. “I will call it a complex and intelligent structure of wind power plants that are interconnected, either with one or several countries,” said Aabo. This more dynamic structure can allow the reliable transmission of a greater volume of energy.
Increasing renewable energy is not only essential to decarbonize electricity. As renewable electricity becomes more abundant, it can be used to decarbonize other sectors of the economy.
A greener construction industry, for example, will require modernizing buildings to make them energy efficient, while at the same time moving from gas to electric heating. “Electrification of heat is a great opportunity,” he says Sam calisch, scientist focused on decarbonization and author of the report Mobilizing for a Zero Carbon America. In particular, Calisch highlights how heat pumps It can electrify the heating sector, while reducing the amount of energy consumed.
Another opportunity is to electrify and expand public transportation, while moving from internal combustion engine cars to electric passenger vehicles. For this to be successful, there need to be policies that incentivize the adoption of electric vehicles and “realize the long-term savings from driving [electric vehicles]”Calisch says, referring to the eventual savings that come from the lower cost of energy per mile compared to vehicles with combustion engines. “This one is very critical because the cars stay on the road for so long.”
There are also other heavy-duty transportation methods like trucks, trains, ships, or planes that are more difficult to convert into renewable electricity. For example, unlike electric vehicles, long-haul flights are not feasible to run on batteries. Instead, Calisch points to hydrogen or the biofuels that power an airplane as a possible solution that is being actively explored. He adds that it is important that hydrogen comes from renewable sources rather than fossil fuels.
Although some technical questions remain, Calisch notes that this should not be a reason to delay the advancement of large-scale renewables. “We have a long way to go in terms of implementation before they start to become serious obstacles to reducing emissions,” says Calisch. By the time these technologies are implemented, he explains, we will likely already have field-proven solutions at scale to these technical challenges.
After all, many solutions to the climate crisis that previously seemed unfeasible are now ready to power the world. Not so long ago, offshore wind was thought by many to be a pipe dream. “20 years ago, a lot of people shook their heads when you told them that you are working with wind power,” says Aabo. Now, as the UK demonstrates, when governments set ambitious targets and enact clear policies, the development of wind power and other green energy sources is actively shaping a low-carbon future.
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