The financial crisis has cast a shadow over the future of Britain's renewable industry. It will need a lot of government help to stay afloatby Lewis Smith / October 28, 2009 / Leave a comment
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Renewables, like so many other industries, have suffered some severe knocks in the last year. But the sector remains confident, and Britain’s developers now lead the world in many areas, including wave, tidal, offshore wind and parts of the microgeneration market. In the long term, however, is the outlook quite so optimistic?
Britain’s recent success in renewables comes despite a rather late start. Two decades ago the opportunity to take the lead in the onshore wind industry was squandered; instead, Denmark and Germany seized the chance to create manufacturing bases, producing turbines and the associated parts which left Britain far behind. The closure earlier this year of the Vestas factory on the Isle of Wight highlighted how Britain’s industry never recovered from failing to win enough private and public backing early on—not only was it the last major wind turbine manufacturing plant in the country, but it was also owned by the Danes.
Yet despite its lack of a significant manufacturing base, Britain’s renewables sector is now showing signs of heath. Many companies with bases in Britain—most, though not all of them, British owned—are building up an enviable portfolio of exports. Renewable Energy Systems (RES), part of the British-owned Sir Robert McAlpine Group, which in 2008 had a £383m turnover, is now the second biggest constructor of wind farms in the US. In 2008 Britain took over from Denmark as the country with the most offshore wind capacity in the world and, later this year, Britain is expected to become the first country to have more than 1,000 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind capacity—enough to supply electricity to 750,000 homes.
While Britain has taken the lead in offshore construction, it still has to buy in most of the hardware from foreign companies. But this could change over the next decade. Offshore wind farms, without any neighbours to upset, can be built much bigger than land-based operations; taller and more powerful turbines are already in development. This may be a moment for Britain to seize control of manufacturing base. Key to this will be creating of one or more hubs of activity, like Jutland in Denmark and Bremen in Germany, towards which companies and investors can gravitate. Aberdeen, the main British base of the oil and gas industry, is among the places to have already expressed an interest. Other candidates include Blyth (close to where…