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That’s according to UK energy sector trade body RenewableUK, which has published a report showing that the country risks losing up to 8 gigawatts (GW) of low-cost power capacity over the next two decades, and in so doing, risk missing their carbon targets.

The new report, Onshore Wind: The UK’s Next Generation sets out the case for building new projects with more powerful turbines on existing wind farm sites.

The capacity at risk represents nearly a fifth or 17.5% of the country’s entire renewable power output, and the trade body has warned that new policies are needed to support either replace, or upgrade infrastructure at, onshore wind farms.

The UK’s first commercial wind farms came online in the 1990’s and were built with an operational lifespan of 20 to 25 years.

Replacing older turbines with more efficient models would mean that fewer turbines would be installed than are currently operating at each site.

The report also advocates other options such as upgrading existing operational turbines, or extending the lifespan of existing projects.

The UK already faces a low-carbon electricity generation gap of up to 18% of the country’s current total electricity demand by 2030, according to the Government’s advisory body the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). RenewableUK’s report warns that if the Government fails to support repowering onshore wind sites, this gap could grow as 8.27GW of onshore wind capacity – enough to meet the power needs of over 5m homes a year – reaches its 25-year expected lifespan.

The warning from industry follows the revelation earlier this month of Government figures showing the UK falling further behind on meeting carbon targets. The CCC is also expected to publish advice next month to tighten the UK’s carbon reduction targets further, in line with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.

Under the report’s ‘optimum scenario’, 12GW of replacement onshore wind capacity could be installed, which would help us to fill the energy gap by powering nearly 8m homes a year and contribute to climate targets. That scenario envisages more applications for repowering being approved and more powerful turbines installed. Under the ‘low scenario’, however, just 2.76GW of new capacity would be installed – a net loss of 5.5GW – due to fewer successful planning applications and smaller turbines being used.

The report calls for the UK government to work with local authorities to bring in supportive policies, including commitments to maintain the current capacity of onshore wind farms in the decades ahead by granting permission for repowering where appropriate. It highlights the fact that other European countries are using increasingly sophisticated onshore wind turbines, yet the UK is currently missing out on the most modern and efficient technology.

RenewableUK’s Deputy Chief Executive Emma Pinchbeck said: “This should be an easy win on climate change that cuts emissions and secures cheap power for consumers. The public mood is for more urgent action to tackle climate change and this is a concrete example of where Government can act to avoid backsliding on progress against our carbon reduction targets. We need to see positive policies in place that will keep Britain powered up with clean, affordable electricity”.

“Without new policies from Government we risk losing huge amounts of renewable energy, so repowering onshore wind is critical to cutting our carbon emissions and closing the looming energy gap. Upgrading our infrastructure with modern onshore turbines is good for consumers, as onshore wind is the cheapest form of new electricity available, and brings investment to communities around the UK”.  

The message sounds quite urgent, but the UK's transition to renewables is one of the most advanced globally, fuelling one-third of the country's energy in the third-quarter of 2018 according the country's Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Here's the story.