23 Sep 2010

World’s largest wind farm opens off Kent coast

The Thanet wind farm’s 100 turbines are expected to produce enough renewable power for more than 200,000 homes. But science correspondent Julian Rush says the UK still faces big power challenges.

The Thanet offshore wind farm has been built by the Swedish energy giant Vattenfall. Its output will increase the amount of energy from offshore wind by a third to 1,314 megawatts, compared to 1,100 megawatts in the whole of the rest of the world.

The environmental group Friends of the Earth called for more investment to upgrade UK ports so that they are able to handle the massive offshore wind turbine parts.

Describing the UK’s record so far as “dismal”, Friends of the Earth campaign and policy manager Craig Bennett said “we urgently need to invest in green energy projects and develop a sense of community ownership in them.

“Now is the time to be increasing renewable energy – nothing would do more to damage investor confidence than for the Governemnt to raise doubts about the long-term support for the industry.”

A "huge challenge"
Together with the Crystal Rig II wind farm in the Scottish borders, which went on stream earlier in September, the UK now has 5.1GW of wind power operating, providing electricity for just under thee million homes (1GW is one gigawatt, or a billion watts), writes Julian Rush.

It is a significant milestone, but Germany passed that mark 12 years ago. Another 18GW of wind power is either under construction, or has been given consent or is in the planning system.

Even so, it will be a huge challenge to deliver all the projects in the pipeline to meet the EU target. And there is a strong possibility all the construction of Britain's future offshore wind farms will be done from European, not British, ports.

While not promising government money, Energy secretary Chris Huhne said “I know there is more to do to bring forward the large sums of investment we want to see in a low-carbon energy in the UK, and we as a Government are committed to playing our part.”

The Thanet offshore wind farm project was taken over by Vattenfall when the previous owners were close to bankruptcy. It cost almost £900m to build.

The wind farm is situated seven miles (12 kilometres) off Foreness Point, Kent. Over the next four years the number of turbines will rise to 341.

The UK now has 250 on-shore and 12 off-shore wind farms giving the capacity to produce over five gigawatts of energy – enough to power all the homes in Scotland.