How to mobilise the UK for wind power
16.42, Friday 26 Aug 2022 Link to this post
It’s hard to think of anything except energy costs today (the numbers were just announced). This time last year we paid £142/month for electricity and gas. It’s already up to £320/mo, and will jump to £579/mo from October.
According to the Which? magazine calculator I will be paying £1,080/mo in April-June 2023. Insane.
Gas prices have spiked because of the European dependency on Russian gas and the Ukraine war. In the UK, looking at this grid dashboard, about half of our electricity is generated from gas.
There are other factors. Danish friends were telling me earlier this week that electricity prices have spiked there too despite Denmark generating mostly from wind. Apparently they don’t use grid batteries and instead balance with hydro from Norway when the wind drops. But demand on hydropower is high generally and the reservoirs need to be filled before winter.
So it’s a mess.
Germany has corner-turned impressively hard. It was phasing out nuclear power; now the last three nuclear power plants are being kept open. It was reliant on the Nord Stream gas pipeline and Russia massively tightened supply; Germany now gets its gas mainly from Norway and not Russia.
Whether or not there is a market failure in UK (why are prices spiking so much? How come the energy companies are making so much profit?) what should be happening right now is a rush to build renewable capacity - anything that eases the pressure on gas.
AND YET: we’ve got a lame duck government in the middle of a leadership transition, so it’s doing nothing, and the two candidates have been disparaging about both solar and onshore wind. This is because the people who will vote for them (Tory party members) typically don’t like the look of wind farms or solar panels.
Real leadership would
- do what is necessary and make the case for it
- turn necessity into an opportunity.
Hey, here’s a free idea for the two Tory leadership candidates:
- our economy needs stimulus and jobs but but as capital investment and not inflationary cash injections
- the UK needs green energy transition, not just because of the cost of gas but because the climate crisis is an existential threat.
The UK has an incredible amount of wind. More than almost anywhere in the world.
We should push massive investment in onshore wind farms, with the manufacturing and engineering supply chain all here in the UK. (Here’s the Tory appeal: we can do this now, it’s a Brexit dividend!)
Then export the machinery and the skills. Become the world leader.
It’s an economic reboot, job creator, and saving rural England all at once (droughts and floods are not so good for our green and pleasant land…).
Let’s appeal to the right even more: it’s sovereign energy. Made here, keeping us independent. We need to have a bigger conversation about resilience but that’s another story.
Offshore, we have a fair amount of capacity already, and there are several new offshore wind farms coming online this year or next. But accelerating offshore is slow.
Whereas onshore, sure, you can’t generate as much - but they’re faster to build and it’s an emergency. If we can discover and roll out a Covid vaccine in the last year then surely we can boot up a new manufacturing economy and save the planet in the next one.
What I don’t understand is that there is ZERO vision like this from our politicians.
It feels like an easy sell? Rural voters are primed to care about the environment, a push like this creates jobs, and “energy sovereignty” is Brexit-friendly.
So is it a policy origination failing?
Are the right-wing policy think tanks simply not coming up with ideas? Has there been incumbent-interest capture?
Oh but maybe people really, really don’t want to see wind turbines on the horizon.
Now we’re really talking about a failure of the imagination because that’s an easy fix with marketing.
FIRST: appeal to people’s pockets. The pattern has been figured out by a company called Ripple Energy. They establish co-ops to build onshore wind farms. Anyone can buy in. Profits are distributed in the form of a discount on your electricity bill.
So, when a wind farm is built, direct a slice of the the profits to local residents.
Perhaps even make it competitive. Make a shortlist of sites and get local communities to bit to build nearby.
SECOND: don’t call them wind farms, call it British Air Power.
We’re used to talking about green energy with pictures of leaves and blue sky etc. No. Change the framing to strength and power. Boom. Done.
In the meantime: set up a government department to buy as much photovoltaics as possible, making deals as far back in the supply chain as is necessary. (It doesn’t matter where manufacturing happens right now, but set up facilities for future UK manufacture in parallel.)
Then use windfall profits on the energy companies to provision solar for factories, schools, and homes (underwrite interest-free loans) in order of necessity first.
Start today. I know this sounds like I’m talking about wartime: central economic planning, homeland propaganda, and a new level of urgency. But that’s how we need to treat it.
Because this isn’t going to get easier. It’s not a matter of riding out the winter. We need to build.