By Gerard Wynn
LONDON, June 12 The majority of British offshore
winds farms are winning planning permission and proceeding to
construction, suggesting that a large portion of those with
outstanding applications will be built.
Britain is the world leader in a technology that is expected
to account for a rapidly rising share of global wind turbine
The country has embraced the offshore technology both
because of its strong wind resources and a desire to avoid the
planning objections that plague onshore wind projects on the
British planning data shows developers are securing
permission at far higher rates than for onshore wind, then
proceeding to construction and operation at a similar or faster
The data shows that offshore projects are successfully
navigating the planning system; that subsidies are providing
adequate support; and that the supply chain, workforce skills
and finance are sufficiently developed.
This suggests that, if anything, the subsidy scheme can be
scaled back faster than planned (a 5 percent cut in green
certificates awarded per unit of power from 2015/16).
The evidence is positive for the global industry, so long as
countries provide similarly high levels of subsidy support.
It remains to be seen whether the technology is
At present Britain is paying a large premium for more
planning approvals, given that offshore wind receives more
subsidy than low-carbon alternatives including onshore wind,
biomass and energy from waste.
That is before accounting for the extremely high sub-sea
cable connection costs.
The British planning process involves a series of hurdles,
starting with an application and subsequent approval or refusal.
Refused applications have the option of going to appeal for
a second opinion by an independent inspector.
Developers may withdraw their application before a decision
if local objections appear overwhelming.
If a scheme is approved, developers will assess the cost of
any attached conditions and whether it is affordable.
They will also assess the cost and availability of finance,
meaning schemes may be abandoned at this stage.
Alternatively, the project will proceed to construction and
finally operation, when it begins to generate power.
So far, some 73 percent (by size, in megawatts) of offshore
wind farm planning applications have been approved, where a
decision has been made, with 6 percent rejected, and the rest
either withdrawn or taking an alternative planning route.
Data for the outcome of refusal appeals is incomplete and so
these rejections are assumed to stand.
By comparison, some 50 percent of onshore wind farms have
been approved and 25 percent refused permission. (see Chart 1)
Offshore wind farms have had to wait slightly longer for a
planning decision, with an average 664 days between planning
application and decision, compared with an average 424 days for
onshore projects, the data shows.
Once approved, offshore projects proceed to construction and
commissioning at a similar rate to onshore wind. (Chart 2)
So far, two thirds of approved offshore wind projects are
already operational or under construction, compared with a
slightly smaller proportion for onshore schemes, with the rest
awaiting construction and a very small minority abandoned.
The data shows that these large, challenging projects do not
seem to be struggling technically or financially to achieve
At present approval rates, some 12,272 megawatts of all
proposed British offshore wind projects (16,907 MW) would get
And applying experience to date, the vast majority (98
percent) of approved projects would proceed to construction,
rather than be abandoned, or some 12,027 MW.
That is close to the amount of offshore wind projected by
Britain by 2020, at 12,990 MW, under a renewable energy plan
that it had to prepare under a European Union renewable energy
It should be noted, however, that offshore wind is presently
generating less power than the government anticipated three
years ago, from a higher than expected capacity.
The offshore wind industry is expected to be the main source
of global growth in turbine demand in the coming years.
Spanish turbine maker Gamesa in February projected
sluggish growth in annual installed wind power capacity.
Within that picture of anaemic growth, however, offshore
wind would account for a rapidly rising share, at 18.9 percent
of the annual market by 2015, up from an estimated 11 percent
last year, and a near doubling in annual installed megawatts.
The onshore wind market, by contrast, would shrink through
2015, Gamesa projected.
In the EU alone, member states project some 44,077 MW of
offshore wind by 2020 (in their renewable energy action plans),
compared with just 5,326 MW installed by the end of last year.
Outside Europe, strong growth is expected in China which has
a target for 20,000 MW of offshore wind by 2020, according to
leading turbine maker Vestas.
Britain's experience so far shows that if enough money is
thrown at the sector then it will deliver. Quite rightly, the
country is also spending on technology development, aiming for
rapid cost reductions.