The Climate Change Act 2008 has committed the UK to reach a target of 20% renewables by 2050, whilst at the same time the UK has pledged to achieve 15% of this by 2020 as part of the European climate deal.

However, whilst such plans to catalyse the renewables industry are generating further interest from private sector investors, there remain a number of limiting factors which must be ironed out for timely project development and completion.

The wind power sector presents a key example of this, as 262 projects representing seven giggawatts are held up due to lengthy planning delays. Government officials from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) recognize the major barriers presented by the Planning Act for wind projects, and plan to launch a renewable energy strategy to understand methods of overcoming existing challenges in the system. But should we have seen this coming? Wind power represents the strongest renewable power source across Europe, and was the fastest growing renewable energy sector last year.

The British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) highlights that in order to meet the 15% renewable target, Britain must generate 30GW of wind capacity – 20GW of which could be generated offshore. The remaining 10GW must be generated onshore, building upon the existing 2.5GW we currently generate, but ongoing planning delays have made investments in the UK less attractive. The average timescales of gaining planning permission in England range from 15-20 months. This along with mounting construction costs which threaten the economics of many wind projects have already forced Shell and BP over to the United States, and Centrica (which owns British Gas) is becoming increasingly concerned over the fate of their 250-megawatt scheme off the Lincolnshire coast.

Europe’s biggest onshore wind farm became operational in early December, providing enough energy for up to a million people in northern Portugal – putting them well on the way to developing an oil-free energy infrastructure. Whilst the project represents only 1% of national consumption, it is a great step forward and has highlighted Portugal’s government enthusiasm, subsidies and special tariffs to make it happen. Something for the UK government to carefully consider in such difficult times.

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