Wind and quite a bit of fog shroud Boris Johnson's energy vision for the UK
Offshore electricity production target doable, says expert, but we need to decarbonise transport and heating too
The UK government has committed to increasing offshore wind energy production from 30GW to 40GW by 2030 amid confusion over what it means for home power consumption.
In a headline-grabbing speech today, pre-released to media, mop topped Prime Minister Boris Johnson boasted of the UK's ambition to build extra capacity in wind power.
As well as a £160m investment in ports and infrastructure, there is a commitment to expand floating offshore wind to harvest 1GW of energy by 2030, 15 times the current volumes worldwide, according to the government.
The boost would produce "more than enough electricity to power every home in the country by 2030, based on current electricity usage," the government claimed.
But at the online-only Conservative Party conference Johnson went further, saying: "Your kettle, your washing machine, your cooker, your heating, your plug-in electric vehicle – the whole lot of them will get their juice cleanly and without guilt from the breezes that blow around these islands."
One wonders how many households the PM could power using his own human wind turbine.
If the UK is to stop using carbon-based fuels to heat homes and power personal transport, there is a big difference between current domestic usage and the all-electric future Johnson seems to imagine.
Unable to explain the discrepancy, the UK government directed The Register to the Conservative Party, which did not respond.
Malte Jansen, an energy policy research associate at Imperial College London, pointed out to The Register that simply adding energy currently provided by domestic gas consumption to a home's electricity usage could create half an order of magnitude difference. And that's without beginning to consider replacing the carbon fuels that power most of our vehicles with domestic energy.
The official line on current usage could be down to the government being careful not to promise more than it can offer, but it should not stop there, Jansen said.
The cost of wind power is falling across the world. Jansen's research found that between 2015 and 2019, the price paid for power from offshore wind farms across Northern Europe fell by 11.9 (±1.6) per cent per year.
"Wind power is so cheap in the UK that there is no reason to stop at just replacing like for like," he told The Register. "We need to think of how we decarbonise the transport and how we decarbonise our homes."
Popular perception has it that wind power is unreliable, but Jansen said offshore wind is actually quite consistent, particularly when averaged out across locations in waters surrounding the British Isles. Meanwhile, some of the electricity generated could be converted into hydrogen to create a transport fuel to decarbonise infrastructure.
But the government would need to go further than its stated target to decarbonise homes with wind power, Jansen said. "I think 40 gigawatts is an ambitious targets for 2030. It is possible to reach that target, seeing what's in the pipeline already. But I think it's a stepping stone towards trying to decarbonise transport and heating... something to build on in the future."
The government is promising to achieve net-zero carbon emissions across the whole economy by 2050. To put its current announcement in perspective, its £160m wind promise is about 1.3 per cent of the £12bn currently promised to England's COVID-19 test-and-trace programme.
If it is to "Build Back Greener", as the Conservative party promises, the UK might need deeper pockets. ®