A drive for developing small-scale wind turbines in the UK

Posted on 12 December 2022

A domestic manufacturer in the UK has secured permission to install a small-scale wind turbine. While the agreement may seem irrelevant, rising energy prices and the potential of blackouts are driving momentum to remove a long-term ban on onshore wind development in the UK. 

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has confirmed a consultation on relaxing the rules that effectively bank onshore wind development. Sunak explained that the government would rethink national planning policies, enabling onshore wind farms to proceed if they demonstrated support from local communities. Under the new proposals, regional councils would no longer need to predesignate the location of wind turbines in local plans. While we determine the future of onshore wind development in the UK. Small-scale developments are emerging. Tiny wind installations like the one mentioned earlier are relatively quick to set up and show local communities can accept new onshore wind plans. 

The small-scale manufacturer, located near Leicester, overcame the legal barrier due to an existing turbine on the property pre-dating the ban and overwhelming support from the local community. While there may be a few other sites with similar conditions, small wind farms could emerge if plans to remove the ban proceed. Octopus Energy Group, which constructs renewable energy sites and supplies energy to UK properties, matched thousands of applications with suitable features like wind speed and grid capacity and discovered enough areas to add more than 2.3 GW of new capacity. This equates to nearly 16% of the current onshore wind fleet and sufficient power for 1.8 million homes. 

Zoisa North-Bond, CEO of Octopus Energy Generation, explains that their model focuses on developing smaller wind farms closer to communities, where electrons travel shorter distances and energy is cheaper. The CEO believes their business can accelerate this type of development. Studies suggest a network of small-scale wind farms could provide power demand for over 7 million British homes. 

Britain requires a lot more onshore wind to achieve its climate goals. Small wind farms present several advantages for Britain. Local support is easier to obtain than constructing a large site. The application process is also simpler, taking as little as six months, according to the organisation RenewableUK. Once approved, the development of a wind site takes approximately another six months, meaning there could be positive changes within just a year.

James Robottom, head of onshore wind at RenewableUK, explains that there is strong demand on the community side and that a change in planning will expand investor industry confidence. England may not have the resource or available land found in Scotland for larger sites, but developers are still keen to invest in England. Most of the UK population is there, so projects don’t need to transport power as far. The range reduces the costs developers need to pay toward the grid. Frank Elsworth, the head of UK onshore development at Vattenfall, believes a lift in the ban would accelerate their plans to develop nationwide.

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