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Ecotricity Explains: Onshore vs offshore wind power

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By Adam Ifans
28 May 2024

We built our first windmill on a hill just outside Stroud in December 1996 and kickstarted the global green energy movement. Following that, we spent two decades building 24 wind parks across Britain, with 74 beautiful windmills that power over 56,000 homes.

Coupled with solar power, onshore wind energy was making huge strides towards decarbonising Britain’s electricity supply. Then along came David Cameron, nearly a decade ago now, who put in place new planning regulations that effectively killed off onshore wind power in Britain. Oh, and added £5 billion to national energy bills since their introduction, by our calculations.

Since then, the focus has been on offshore wind power. Last year, offshore reached approximately the same installed capacity as onshore wind, with 15 gigawatts each. The marine environment is incredibly tough to construct in, but the turbines are huge and built in enough numbers to achieve impressive economies of scale. However, offshore wind energy still isn’t as cheap as onshore wind or solar.

onshore v offshore thumb
Will we ever build onshore again?

Around a year ago, the Tory government announced with a great deal of fanfare that they were ‘unbanning’ onshore wind. However, data released two months ago by the Guardian shows that there have been no applications for new onshore wind projects (other than for private use) since the ‘unbanning’.

Britain supports onshore wind - recent polling shows even 80% of Tory voters support it – and there a general election headed our way in the next few months. With it comes hopes of a new government that will unshackle the potential of onshore wind. It is still the fastest, cleanest and cheapest form of energy we can build.

In fact, it’s so much easier to build on land – and maintain and repair – that we could reach 100% green on the grid in 10 years and with no public money.

Energy security

The energy crisis and the war in Ukraine have brought home the importance of energy security in Britain. £50 billion a year leaves our economy and goes to fossil fuel states to energy imports. The most recent figures show that we imported nearly 40% of our energy in 2022.

Wouldn’t it be better to invest that money in becoming energy independent through wind and sun? It would enable us to set energy prices at a national level, instead of being at the whims of global markets. And it would create jobs and opportunities all around the country.

It’s easily done. We have the wind, the sun, the technology and the expertise – we just need the political will.

ford construction
How do they compare?

Onshore and offshore wind power is effectively the same thing in different locations. But there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Energy prices: Onshore wind is significantly cheaper than offshore. Construction is more complicated and more expensive, and access for maintenance and repairs has the same drawbacks.

  • Wind speeds: Offshore winds tend to be more reliable than onshore locations with higher average wind speeds.

  • Construction speeds: Onshore wind is really fast to plan and construct. Offshore wind’s marine environment means it is a lot slower and more difficult.

  • Energy connections: Large onshore wind parks plug into the national grid. Offshore schemes need longer, more complicated undersea connections, which are more expensive and lose more power on transmission.

  • Energy security: Energy security means producing as much of your own energy as possible. However, the attacks on the Nord Stream pipelines in September 2022 indicate that offshore wind is more at risk than onshore wind power in the event of any future conflicts.

  • Community schemes: Offshore wind parks are too expensive for anyone other than big corporations to get involved, keeping energy production in the hands of the few. Onshore wind is affordable and adaptable enough to be used for both large- and small-scale schemes. Communities and towns can even build their own, if they want to get involved.

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