What the US can learn from the UK about wind power

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EAGLESHAM, Scotland – As President Joe Biden’s administration puts its forces in the service of wind power with plans to develop large-scale wind farms along the entire coastline of the United States, the administration can examine how Europe’s windiest nation is transforming its energy grid by example of how to proceed.

In the search for renewable energy sources, the UK has adopted wind power. In 2020, the country generated up to 24% of its electricity from wind power, enough to power 18.5 million homes, according to government statistics.

With generally reliable winds, the UK currently has the largest number of offshore wind turbines installed in the world, closely followed by China.

Experts and industry leaders say it offers valuable lessons on creating a viable market for wind power on the ambitious scale that the Biden administration hopes to meet in order to address climate change and to assist in the transition of the US economy to renewable energies.

“The United States will benefit enormously from the early investments that European governments have made in offshore wind,” said Oliver Metcalfe, wind energy analyst at BloombergNEF in London, an independent research group.

Great American plans

October 13, the White House has announced plans to lease federal waters off the east and west coasts and the Gulf of Mexico to develop commercial wind farms.

The move is part of Biden’s goal of producing 30,000 megawatts of offshore wind power in the United States by 2030. The White House said it would generate enough electricity to power more than 10 million homes and would thus create 77,000 jobs.

But there is a gulf between where the United States is now and where it wants to be over the next decade when it comes to offshore wind power.

“We are the first generation to understand the science and the implications of climate change and we are the last generation to be able to do anything about it.”

Lindsay McQuade, CEO of ScottishPower Renewables

The United States is not new to wind power; Onshore wind power in states like Texas, Oklahoma and Iowa provided 8.2% of the country’s total electricity production in 2020, according to the US Department of Energy.

But despite its long coastlines, offshore wind has been a largely untapped resource in the United States With a population of around 332 million, the United States currently has only two operational offshore wind farms – offshore Rhode Island and Virginia – with the capacity to produce 42 megawatts of electricity between them.

In contrast, the United Kingdom, with a population of 67 million, has 2,297 offshore wind turbines with the capacity to produce 10,415 megawatts of electricity.

Power station or park?

Just outside central Glasgow, the host city of the United Nations climate change conference known as COP26, the fruits of years of efforts to move away from fossil fuels can be seen and heard

Whitelee Windfarm, the UK’s largest onshore wind farm, spans 30 square miles on Eaglesham Moor and includes over 80 miles of trails for walking, biking and horseback riding.

Lindsay McQuade, CEO of ScottishPower Renewables, owner of Whitelee, calls it “a powerhouse that is also a country park”.

With its capacity of 539 megawatts, it generates enough electricity for 350,000 homes, more than half of Glasgow’s population.

On a recent gusty fall day, Ian and Fiona Gardner, both 71, were walking their dogs among the 360-foot-high turbines at the wind farm

Fiona and Ian Gardner walk through their two laboratories in Whitelee “six days a week”.Duncan McGlynn for NBC News

“This is a major contribution to Scotland, to become independent from oil by 2035,” said Ian Gardner, an accountant.

Thanks to rapid technological advances in turbine technology, this wind farm, completed in 2009, is now practically old school. The latest generation of land-based turbines typically generate double the current capacity of Whitelee turbines.

“It took us 20 years to build 2 gigawatts of power. And we’re going to double that in five years, ”said McQuade, an economist. “We can do this because the machines are big, efficient, cheap, and the supply chain is there. ”

‘Game changer’

The largest operational offshore wind farm in the world today, Hornsea Project One, sits approximately 75 miles off the English Yorkshire coast in the North Sea.

Owned and operated by Orsted, a former Danish oil and gas giant, in partnership with Global Infrastructure Partners, its 174 turbines have the capacity to generate 1.2 gigawatts – enough to power over a million homes and roughly the equivalent of a nuclear power plant.

Benj Sykes, UK Offshore Wind vice president at Orsted, called Hornsea One a ‘game changer’ in a recent phone interview, citing him as an example of how the industry has increased production to compete with power plants. traditional.


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