2021 an exciting year for ecologically conscious energy consumers. As of the first quarter of the year, renewable energy sources have become the biggest contributor to our overall energy fuel mix. Our country’s renewables (which include wind, solar, biomass and hydroelectricity) are diverse with a fascinating future of innovation ahead of them. But of all the renewable energy sources in our fuel mix, wind power in the UK is by some way the biggest.
Last updated: September 2021
Along with solar power, onshore and offshore wind power made up over 40% of our fuel mix in Q1 of 2020, according to data from energy industry regulator Ofgem. More than nuclear power and even more than natural gas. Wind Power in the UK is, without a doubt, here to stay. In fact, our production of wind power has more than doubled since 2017 and we now produce more than 10 times as much energy from wind and solar as we do from coal.
And as we see more and more investment in on and offshore wind farms, we may well wonder what the future holds for this renewable form of energy. In this post we’ll take a close look at how wind power works, and how much it contributes to our overall energy mix. We’ll take a look at the country’s many wind farms as well as those currently under construction. As well as looking into some of the pros and cons of this renewable form of energy generation.
How is wind power generated in the UK?
We know that, along with solar energy, wind power is the most widely used form of renewable energy generation in the UK. But how is wind power generated? And why have Ofgem lumped it in with solar power on their website?
This is because wind power is, essentially, a form of solar power and all wind energy starts with the sun. Because the surface of the earth is uneven, different parts get heated by the sun at different times. The discrepancy in temperature across flatlands, mountains, rivers and oceans causes a cycle of rising hot air and sinking cold air settling down to replace it.
The change in air pressure that this necessitates leads to the formation of wind. The kinetic energy of this wind is captured by banks of wind turbines known as “wind farms”.These are usually placed in large expanses of flat open land where they can catch the most wind or in the shallow waters just off the UK coastline.
Understanding wind turbines
Wind turbines are responsible from converting the power of the wind into an infinitely renewable form of electricity. And this clever, scalable equipment is not only hard at work in the country’s UK wind farms, its even helping some homes all over the UK reduce their reliance on energy from the national grid.
All wind turbines work on the same principle. Large blades are used catch the wind. These are not dissimilar to the blades used for the windmills of yesteryear. When the wind blows is pushes the blades around, driving a turbine that generates electricity. This energy is then pumped directly into the national grid.
The stronger the wind blows, the more electricity can be produced. This is why turbines are grouped together in farms. To try and create a steady flow of energy while also maximising output. As with all renewables, there’s no simple way to store wind power in the UK, which is why consistent output is so important.
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Different kinds of wind power in the UK
The versatility and scalability of wind power has led to several different types of wind farming. onshore, offshore and small / medium wind generation. We’ll explain these in greater detail below:
onshore wind requires the building of wind farms on large expanses of flat, windswept land. Fortunately, rural Britain has many such expanses of land, and this has given rise to a fast-growing, cost-effective and popular form of energy generation with over two thirds of the population in favour of expanding our wind farms.
While onshore wind farming is cost, effective and popular, we must remember that we are a relatively small country. And while wind energy may not be finite, the amount of land we can use for wind farming certainly is. As such, we have begun to supplement our onshore wind farming efforts with a steady supply of offshore wind.
In fact, the UK is a world leader in offshore wind power, with more installed capacity than any other nation on the planet.
Small and medium wind
Wind farms aren’t the only ones generating wind power in the UK. Many homes and businesses all over the nation are coming to realise that they can supplement or even replace their energy from the grid with their own supply of clean wind power. Believe it or not, the UK has been manufacturing wind turbines for small to medium-sized operations for over 40 years, and we are world leaders in this technology.
Are wind turbines cost-effective in the UK?
Wind power in the UK has experienced a huge boost in the past 5 years. This is because it’s not only renewable and scalable, but extremely cost-effective. In fact, as of 2015, wind power is cheaper to produce than energy from fossil fuels. This has led to a surge of new green energy suppliers over the past few years and an understanding among energy consumers that they don’t need to pay over the odds for sustainable energy.
Not only are wind turbines cost-effective, they can also provide a boost to the UK economy, creating tens of thousands of new jobs. And as this article in the Guardian suggests, there’s scope for huge growth over the coming decade, with wind energy forming the backbone of a new green economy.
How much does wind power contribute to the UK energy mix?
At the time of writing the UK has a total of 10,911 active wind turbines according to the UK Wind Energy Database. These on and offshore turbines generate enough energy to power over 11 million homes between them. With an operational capacity of over 24,000 Megawatts (MW).
In the first quarter of 2020, wind power made up around 30% of the overall energy mix when on and off shore numbers were combined. This was a significant increase in the previous record of 22.3% in the last quarter of 2019.
The UK’s wind farms
The UK’s wind farms are an extremely important part of our national energy mix, and a growing contributor to the economy, with the wind energy sector employing around 55,000 people in total.
At the time of writing, there are currently 2,450 wind farm sites across the country and along our coastlines, with a total of 10,420 wind turbines shared between them. Let’s get to know some of our biggest wind farms a little better…
What is the largest onshore wind farm?
onshore wind represents the majority of wind power in the UK. This is because onshore wind turbines are cheaper to build and maintain, enduring much less wear and tear than their offshore equivalents. Let’s take a look at some of the country’s biggest wind farms:
- Whitelee Wind Farm in Eaglesham, Glasgow is not just the largest in Scotland but in all of Great Britain. With a total of 215 wind turbines, it can generate 539 MW of electricity when operating at their peak capacity. The optimal output of this wind farm alone is enough to power around 300,000 homes at any given time. In just over 10 years of operations, it has already saved over 5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.
- The next largest is the Pen y Cymoedd Wind Farm near Aberdare in Wales. This new site was just opened in 2017. Yet with a total of 76 turbines and a capacity of 228 MW- it generates enough to power 188,000 homes and prevents around 300,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions.
- In England, the more diminutive Little Cheyne Court is located in rural Kent, just west of Lydd on Romney Marsh. It has 26 wind turbines with a peak output of 59.8 MW, generating enough electricity to power 33,000 homes every year.
- Over in Northern Ireland, the largest onshore wind farm is Slieve Rushen Wind Farm. With just 18 turbines it can still muster an impressive total capacity of 54 megawatts per year. Enough to power 30,000 homes.
What is the largest offshore wind farm?
Sea winds are more intense and consistent than the winds we experience on land. Which is why, although offshore wind farms are more expensive to build and maintain, they are a significant part of our renewable energy fuel mix. What’s more, offshore wind farming represents less disruption to UK communities and fewer issues like noise pollution and visual interference.
Britain’s coastal waters are home to not only the country’s but the world’s largest offshore wind farm. This is:
- The London Array, located 12 and a half miles off the Kentish coast, and made up of 175 wind turbines spread over 38 square miles. Constructed in 2012, The London array generates 630 MW of electricity. That’s enough to power almost 500,000 households while also reducing CO2 emissions by up to 925,000 tonnes every year that might otherwise make their way into our atmosphere.
- Robin Rigg Wind Farm in Solway Firth is the country’s second largest offshore array. It has a total of 58 wind turbines capable of 180 MW capacity. It currently powers 120,000 homes all over Scotland, offsetting 235,000 tonnes of CO2 every year
- Finally Wales’ Gwynt y Môr Wind Farm is located in the Irish Sea just off the northern Welsh coast. Gwynt y Môr Wind Farm boasts 160 turbines that are capable of generating 576 MW of electricity. That’s enough to power 400,000 households and reduce CO2 emissions by 1.7 million tonnes every year.
Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of wind energy
As we can see, the heavy hitters in our nation’s wind farms alone can power millions of homes and prevent millions of tonnes of greenhouse gasses from making our way into our atmosphere. Wind energy is an infinitely renewable and eminently affordable form of energy generation. But while wind power in the UK is highly advantageous, it is by no means infallible.
Every form of energy generation has its pros and cons and wind power is no exception.
In the table below you’ll see some of the pros and cons of wind energy:
|Wind Power UK Advantages||Wind Power UK Disadvantages|
|✔️ Cheaper than ever to generate. As of 2017, wind power has become more cost-effective than producing energy by burning natural gas.||❌ New wind farming sites require huge upfront investments. As such, they are largely reliant on government subsidies. The London Array alone cost £1.8 billion to plan and construct.|
|✔️ Highly eco-friendly and infinitely renewable. Saves millions of tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere every year. Gives Brits a reason not to complain about the weather.||❌ Winds are subject to the whims of nature, and as such are not the most consistent or reliable. Especially when wind farming onshore.|
|✔️ Surprisingly efficient use of space. The land between turbines can be used for growing crops or raising cattle. Farmers can even install their own wind turbines on arable farmland.||❌ Wind turbines can be a cause of disruption to local communities. They can generate a lot of noise and obstruct their views of the beautiful British countryside.|
|✔️ Reduces reliance on imported energy. This means UK suppliers can better control the cost of supplying energy, passing the savings on to consumers.|
|✔️ Generates a huge amount of economic activity, creating millions of jobs and driving innovation.|
While the advantages certainly outweigh the disadvantages, it’s important to understand that even our renewables are not perfect.
The future of wind power in the UK
While the UK already has an impressive wind power infrastructure, including the world’s largest offshore wind farm. But the London Array is soon to surrender its crown to another, even larger UK wind farm. As the demand for renewable energy continues to rise, the wind power sector has experienced a surge in new investment to meet demand.
As intriguing as the present may be, the future of wind power in the UK could be even more exciting…
As previously stated, the prohibitive upfront cost of establishing new wind farms means that this growing industry is heavily dependent on government subsidies.
Fortunately, the UK government is heavily invested in wind power, with plans to quadruple offshore capacity by 2030. An investment of £17.5 billion in wind farming is expected over the next four years. Our wind power infrastructure in the UK is central to the government’s plans to make the UK a world leader in green energy. Among the government’s ambitious targets for the UK to be completely carbon-neutral by 2050, we can see:
“Confirming offshore wind will produce more than enough electricity to power every home in the country by 2030, based on current electricity usage, boosting the government’s previous 30GW target to 40GW.”
The Offshore Wind Sector Deal is also dedicated to ensuring that UK wind farming becomes a cornerstone of our nation’s green economy.
Some of the deal’s most commendable targets for 2030 include:
- Ensuring that offshore wind power represents 60% of our energy mix.
- Exports of offshore wind energy increase fivefold to £2.6 billion.
- Increasing the presence of women in the offshore wind workforce to at least a third by 2030.
- Building a stronger supply chain and establishing the Offshore Wind Growth Partnership (OWGP).
UK wind farms under construction
As we can see, the UK has big plans for wind power. At the heart of which is a quartet of new wind power projects called Hornsea Project One, Two and Three. You can read more about the Hornsea Project here.
Hornsea One is due for completion in the latter half of 2020, with the final turbine but into place in October 2020. While not officially completed yet, Hornsea One has actually been generating power since February 2019. The offshore project, located just off the Yorkshire coast, will be surpass the London array as the world’s largest offshore wind farm with 174 turbines. It will have an astonishing operational capacity of 1 Gigawatt (GW), enough to power over a million homes.
Dogger Bank wind farms, also off the Yorkshire coast, will boast a new generation of 853 foot tall turbines with blades that extend to 351 feet
Hornsea Two will expand even further on its “little sister” project, with the capacity to power up to 1.6 million homes. Hornsea Three and Four are expected to follow thereafter.
Who are the main wind energy providers?
The UK currently has over 50 active energy suppliers. A growing proportion of which have begun to make wind power part of their energy fuel mix. Indeed, some larger suppliers like Scottish Power and SSE actually generate wind power from their own on and offshore wind farms. Many even have 100% renewable tariffs that are either mostly or entirely generated by wind power.
At the time of writing, all of the “Big 6” suppliers and most smaller suppliers offer at least some wind power as part of their energy fuel mix. However, find that the greenest tariffs are offered by the following suppliers:
- Foxglove Energy / Outfox The Market- 100% offshore
- Bulb- 78% wind, 18% solar, 4% hydro
- Good Energy- 51% wind power, 27% solar, 18% bio, 4% hydro.
- Ecotricity- 99.94% wind power (78.34% offshore, 21.59% onshore).
- Octopus Energy- 75.3% wind, 21% solar, 3.7% hydro.
Looking for an energy supplier that harnesses wind power in the UK? We’re here to help!
Wind Power is clearly the future for a more renewable UK energy sector. And because it’s an increasingly affordable way to generate energy, suppliers can pass those savings on to their customers.
However, finding the perfect supplier and tariff can be a frustrating and time-consuming exercise. But we’re here to help! We scour the market for the most affordable and renewable tariffs, managing your switch from end-to-end so you can enjoy cheaper, cleaner energy without the hassle and the headaches.
Get in touch with us today on 0330 818 6223 to find out more. We’re available from 8.30 am to 5.30 pm.
To read more on this topic, check out these guides:
Who makes wind turbines in the UK?
The UK is home to some of the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturers. These are:
- Nordex UK
- Clipper Windpower
- GE Wind Energy
What is the largest wind turbine in the UK?
We already know that the largest wind farm in the UK is the London Array (soon to be surpassed by Hornsea Project One). But what’s the largest turbine?
The UK’s tallest wind turbines are those of the Burbo Bank Offshore Wind Farm, located off the coast of Liverpool. At a height of 195 metres, they are taller than the Blackpool Tower and London’s iconic Gherkin skyscraper. However, these will soon be surpassed by the wind turbines at Dogger Bank Wind Farm at an astonishing 853 feet or 260 metres.
Can I get a wind turbine for my home?
Yes. A number of UK homes and businesses use their own wind turbines to supplement the energy they get from the National Grid. There are two types of domestic-sized wind turbine:
- Pole / mast mounted: Free standing turbines designed for use in exposed areas, with generation capacity of around 5-6 kW.
- Building mounted: These smaller systems can be installed on the roof of a home with suitable wind resources. These typically have a capacity of 1-2kW.
Which suppliers offer wind power in the UK?
All of the "Big 6" energy suppliers offer at least some wind power as part of their energy mix. Some, like Scottish Power and SSE, even generate their own wind power as well as supplying it. Smaller renewable suppliers that use wind energy include:
Updated on 4 Oct, 2021
UK Content Manager