Ingleton Wood has backed the government’s revamped green energy ambition to power all UK homes from offshore wind by 2030 but raised questions over the national grid’s ability to cope with future electricity demand, particularly in rural areas. Electric vehicle charging and electric heat pumps are set to add substantial strain on local distribution networks.
The firm, which has played key roles in green energy projects such as the £1.5bn Galloper Wind Farm off Harwich coast in Essex, also insists the region’s energy sector can match the innovation shown during the Covid-19 pandemic with the mass production of ventilators to drive growing demand for offshore projects in the North Sea.
It comes after prime minister Boris Johnson pledged to invest £160 million to upgrade infrastructure in ports and factories to manufacture the next generation of wind turbines for offshore windfarms, announced at the virtual Conservative Party 2020 conference.
The target to power all homes from wind energy, first revealed in the Conservative Party 2019 manifesto, would mean installing 260 new turbines every year for five years on average, Aurora Energy Research found.
Rob Diamond, a sustainability expert at Ingleton Wood, based at Norwich Business Park in Whiting Road, said the target was realistic “with the government’s full backing including incentives and rebates on renewable technologies, and a pull-back from fossil fuel energy generation”.
He said: “We need a mix of power because we can’t just use wind – there will be peaks and troughs – so we’ll need large power stations to pick up the slack when the wind isn’t blowing. But most, if not all, of our power stations are coming to the end of their lives, and we want to get rid of fossil fuels, so we need more detail on what will replace them.”
A doubling in electricity demand across Norfolk is expected with the upcoming mass uptake of electric vehicle charging and use of air source heat pumps to replace boiler heating. This could put local grids under huge strain, so more infrastructure investment could be needed.
“We’re wasting a lot of surplus wind energy, so we also need to revisit storage. It’s currently very expensive and a complex problem,” Mr Diamond said.
“The technology needs to be smarter and more aligned. For example, we could use so-called ‘vehicle to grid’ technology to temporarily store surplus electricity in electric vehicle batteries until it’s needed by the grid.”
Britain’s 24 gigawatts (GW) of installed wind capacity is one of the largest in the world and enough to power 18 million homes – around 60% of the total – according to industry trade body Renewable UK. Mr Johnson also raised the UK annual target from 30 to 40GW.
Nicol Perryman, an associate and planner at Ingleton Wood, who has worked in renewable energy planning for 15 years, said: “While Mr Johnson's announcements are big steps in the right direction, it is important not to confuse electricity with energy: two thirds of the UK’s electricity will still be generated from nuclear, gas and other sources in 2030. We need more clarity from the Government on meeting the climate challenge in the Energy White Paper.”
The Energy White Paper is set to be published next month after being delayed five times, stretching back to summer 2019. It will outline key policy details on how the UK will achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Mr Diamond said: “We need a clear roadmap in the eagerly-awaited Energy White Paper. We need to know what the plan is. We need to see the bigger picture – a large-scale innovative strategy to tackle climate change, showing exactly where everything fits in.
“When we talk about adding a certain number of wind turbines, the Government is quick to say how many cups of tea this will boil, but we need something more definitive. What will be the direct effect on greenhouse gases for example?”
Mr Diamond questioned how parts of the rural region’s “old patchy infrastructure will cope”, with increasingly complex turbines, cables and substations requiring connection to the grid.
But he added: “We’ve seen how innovative we can be when really pushed. Just look at the phenomenal manufacturing of ventilators for Covid-19 this year. That’s how we need to treat climate change now. We need to see it as a cliff-edge – a point of no return – to tackle it with urgency and innovation.”
Ingleton Wood is one of the largest property and construction consultancies covering Central England, East Anglia, London and the South East, with offices in Colchester, Norwich, Cambridge, Billericay, Oxford and London. Its services include architecture, building surveying, building services engineering, planning, interior design, civil and structural engineering, quantity surveying, project management and health and safety.