The UK wind sector has potential to be a global superpower in terms of capacity, but falls short on manufacturing, skills, and the rollout of windfarms.

The UK reached 30.1GW of installed wind power capacity in 2023, equalling 28.7 per cent of national electricity generation that year. The UK government has outlined plans to achieve 50GW of offshore wind, of which 5GW will be floating, by 2030. To achieve this, the UK must triple its offshore wind capacity over the next seven years compared to the past 14 years. At its current pace, UK wind will only meet its desired targets in 2048.

The manufacturing gap

A report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) explains that the UK is second in the world for offshore wind capacity, losing to China for the top spot. On a global scale, the current supply of wind power manufacturing will not be sufficient to meet global net zero targets by 2030. The world must collaborate to deliver a capacity of 350GW of wind power per annum to align with net zero.

China is driving global wind energy manufacturing, accounting for three fifths of the world’s manufacturing capacity for wind nacelles and blades, and their turbines are currently 20 to 40 per cent cheaper than Europe’s equivalents, but the UK cannot rely on foreign wind manufacturing capacity. Domestic wind power supply chains are essential for ensuring the UK’s wind sector meets its potential.

However, skills shortages and inadequate supply chains are proving to be a key limitation for UK wind energy manufacturing output. The UK does not currently have the necessary workforce to deliver on its wind energy goals and, even if it did, the current infrastructure in place is not sufficient to support the industry. Particularly, upgrading port infrastructure and installing the right manufacturing facilities can take three to four years, but developers who win Contracts for Difference contracts often only seek short-term contracts to deploy their projects, leaving them with fewer ports to choose from and causing some projects to be abandoned.

A missed opportunity

If the UK were to have exploited its market for wind installation to the maximum, or similarly to the three leading European countries for wind manufacturing, it could have generated €21bn to €36bn in production value between 2008 and 2022. Furthermore, ramping up domestic wind manufacturing would have brought down the costs of wind power even further.

According to Carbon Brief, UK wind generates electricity at an average price of £48 per MWh,  which is nine times cheaper than the cost of running gas-fired power stations. As wind power supply increases, it could save consumers an estimated £1.5bn per year by the late 2020s, cutting annual average bills by around £58. The UK could generate further energy bill savings for consumers if it maximises the potential of its wind sector.

However, the UK is not delivering on this opportunity. Despite the promising outcomes from UK wind energy generation, offshore wind deployment slowed in 2023, hitting just 800MW of offshore wind compared to 2.7GW in 2022. A similar trend has been observed for the UK’s onshore wind, which suffered the consequences of the government’s de facto ban on onshore wind farms in 2015. Even though the ban has now been lifted, developments and planning submissions for onshore wind farms are yet to bounce back.

Overall, IPPR’s report highlights six key barriers to UK wind energy growth:

  • Long-term uncertainty from Contracts of Difference auctions.
  • Planning and consenting issues.
  • Inadequate port infrastructure.
  • Electricity grid capacity issues.
  • Skills shortages and a lack of funding for training.
  • Lack of a pipeline for those entering the industry.
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