What the U.S. can learn from the U.K. about wind power

EAGLESHAM, Scotland – As President Joe Biden’s government puts its power behind wind power with plans to develop large wind farms along the entire coast of the United States, the government can watch, for example, the windiest nation in Europe rebuilding its energy grid and see what happens next.

In the search for renewable energy sources, Britain has devoted itself to wind power. In 2020, the country generated up to 24 percent of its electricity from wind power – enough to supply 18.5 million households, according to government statistics.

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

Experts and industry leaders say it provides valuable lessons on creating a viable market for wind power on the ambitious scale the Biden administration hopes to achieve to address climate change and support the U.S. economy’s transition to renewable energy.

“The US will benefit enormously from the early investments by European governments in offshore wind,” said Oliver Metcalfe, wind power analyst at BloombergNEF in London, an independent research group.

Great American plans

October 13th, The White House 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 to produce 30,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy in the United States by 2030. The White House says it would generate enough electricity to power more than 10 million households, creating 77,000 jobs in the process.

But there is a gap between where the US is now and what it wants to be in the next decade when it comes to offshore wind energy.

“We are the first generation to understand science and the effects of climate change and we are the last generation that can do something about it.”

Lindsay McQuade, CEO ScottishPower Renewables

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

But despite its long coastlines, offshore wind in the US is a largely untapped resource, with a population of approximately 332 million people, the US currently only has two offshore wind farms in operation – off Rhode Island and Virginia – with the capacity to produce a total of 42 megawatts of electricity.

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

Power plant or park?

Just outside the center of Glasgow, the host city of the UN climate conference 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 48 square kilometers on Eaglesham Moor and includes over 130 kilometers of trails for walking, cycling and horse riding.

Lindsay McQuade, CEO of ScottishPower Renewables, which owns Whitelee, calls it a “power plant that’s also a landscaped park”.

Fiona and Ian Gardner run “six out of seven days” through their two laboratories in Whitelee.Duncan McGlynn for NBC News

With an output of 539 megawatts, it generates enough electricity for 350,000 households – more than half of the population of Glasgow.

On a gusty autumn day, Ian and Fiona Gardner, both 71, were walking their dogs among the wind farm’s 360-foot turbines

“This is an important contribution for Scotland to become oil independent by 2035,” said Ian Gardner, an accountant.

Thanks to the rapid technological progress in turbine technology, the wind farm, which was completed in 2009, is practically old school today. The latest generation of onshore turbines typically produce twice the capacity of Whitelee’s turbines.

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

‘Game changer’

The world’s largest offshore wind farm currently in operation, Hornsea Project One, is located about 120 kilometers off the English coast of Yorkshire 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 1 million homes and about one To match nuclear power plant.

Benjamin Sykes, Vice President of UK Offshore Wind at Orsted, called Hornsea One a “game changer” in a recent telephone interview, citing it as an example of how the industry has stepped up to compete with traditional power plants.

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