Backlogs threaten Government targets for renewable energy

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The Independent Online

Ambitious plans to erect more than 10,000 wind turbines across Britain and around the coast by 2020 are at risk of being derailed by a critical supply bottleneck.

The German engineering giant Siemens, which is one of the leading wind turbine manufacturers, admitted yesterday that it had a four-year backlog of orders for its largest machines. "Supply is indeed tight, relative to demand," a spokesman said.

British utility companies have been told by Siemens that new orders for turbines will not be filled until 2012 at the earliest. The delays imperil a daunting Government target that the power industry had already deemed near-impossible to complete within the proposed time frame.

Siemens is preparing to triple turbine production by 2011 to deal with demand from Britain and other countries, such as Germany and Denmark, which have also embraced wind farms as a means of increasing renewable energy production.

But a spokesman for Centrica said: "The supply chain issues need to be addressed now so that when it is time to put the bigger wind farms in the ground we are able to do that, rather than planning now and then being constrained."

Power companies fear that ministers do not fully appreciate the scale of the challenge facing the industry if it is to reach the Government's goal of generating 33 gigawatts of electricity from wind power by 2020, compared with the existing capacity of 1GW. They believe ministers will have to take a more active role, either through increasing wind power subsidies, or adjusting the Renewable Obligation Credits system, which offers incentives to power companies to source more of their electricity from renewable sources.

A spokesman for Britain's largest wind power generator, nPower, said of the turbine shortage: "There is a waiting list ... but the important thing for us is to be able to give assurance to suppliers that the long-term contracts will be there."

The British Wind Energy Association wants ministers to launch an all-out effort to convince the likes of Siemens and Vestas, another leading turbine maker, to set up manufacturing plants in the UK. Even with the move towards renewable energy use signalled by the Government, Britain is a far smaller market for turbines than the US and China, meaning that UK power companies fall to the back of the queue behind much larger customers elsewhere. Establishing manufacturing and expertise in this country, the BWEA argues, is necessary to secure supplies for the £80bn wind farm programme.

Britain's renewables targets are among the toughest in Europe, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown has put wind energy at the centre of the Government's plans to meet them. The EU said last month that the UK would have to increase its share of energy produced by renewable sources from today's 5 per cent to 40 per cent by 2020. The lion's share of the increase is slated to come from wind power, with 7,000 offshore wind turbines expected to be installed – up from fewer than 150 today – and 5,000 onshore, more than double the 2,000 currently in operation.

The Government has said it will set aside vast areas of the seabed for wind farm development, but one power company executive said yesterday: "There is a sense of urgency in the Government, but that is not matched by a sense of what needs to be done practically to bridge this gap. Awarding sites is fine, but we need to set up manufacturing bases and get training programmes in place."

The turbines shortage is one of many bottlenecks as the wind industry tries to cope with demand that grew by 30 per cent last year. Ports will have to be enlarged to accommodate the large turbine towers before they are shipped out to sea. Britain currently has only two of the specialised boats used to install off-shore turbines. More will be needed – but they take three years to build.

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