Onshore Vs Offshore Wind: Which is Best?

Recent data produced by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) suggests that onshore wind is by far the cheapest option when it comes renewable energy generation in the UK.

That led Green MP Caroline Lucas to suggest that the Government needs to reverse its decision on reducing subsidies for onshore wind and excluding them from auctions. According to the BBC this week:

“The estimates by BEIS show that it will cost £63 to generate a megawatt hour of electricity using onshore wind energy, reinforcing Caroline Lucas’s claim. It’s the cheapest renewable power source listed, in comparison with £106 for offshore wind.”

What Happened to Onshore Wind?

There’s no doubt that onshore wind suffered from a fair deal of nimbyism over the last decade or so, despite the fact that it’s cheaper to install than offshore windfarms. That’s why the current Government have been more focused on building out to sea rather than on farm land or countryside.

It does, however, ignore the fact that most people are not against onshore wind at all.

The Benefits of Onshore Wind

A report in June 2018 by BVG Associates demonstrated that onshore wind could deliver over £1.6 billion in benefits to energy consumers and the local economy in the UK if the Government changed their current policy. It could do this in a number of ways, including:

  • In the current environment, greater investment in onshore wind would create a large number of long-term, sustainable jobs.
  • More onshore wind farms would improve the energy security of the UK and lower our carbon emissions at the same time.
  • It’s a proven technology that has already been shown to be cost effective – more so on land where the challenges of off-shore construction and maintenance are not so high.
  • Onshore wind will attract investment because it’s proven and more projects would lead to the creation of a supply chain of associated businesses and even more jobs.

The idea that onshore wind is not liked by much of the UK population may also be largely apocryphal. According to Scottish Power CEO Lindsay McQuade:

“Onshore wind is the cheapest form of new build electricity generation available in the UK today, and statistics show that it is supported by over three-quarters of the British public. The Government can benefit from cheap, green and clean energy to deliver the Industrial Strategy and Clean Growth Plan by supporting onshore wind as well.”

To their credit, the Government has recently changed onshore wind rules though this is more to allow off-shore islands to compete in contracts for difference auctions.

Many in the renewables sector now believe that we should be moving towards allowing more projects to be built on mainland UK. That’s supported by industry groups who believe that both wind and solar will need to play a vital role in the UK energy infrastructure if we are to fully address carbon emissions and energy security for the future.

Whether the Government will listen remains to be seen. Despite evidence to the contrary, it doesn’t look like any major onshore wind farms are going to be built any time soon. While that might satisfy the ardent nimbyists in governmental ranks, it may not be the best thing for the energy future of the UK.