More than 8GW – or two-thirds – of the nearly 13GW of existing onshore wind capacity in the UK is facing retirement by 2040, Renewable UK has warned in a new report.

The trade association has urged the government to work with local authorities to support the repowering of old windfarms and prevent “a backsliding of progress against our carbon budgets”.

“By 2040, nearly two-thirds of the UK’s current onshore capacity will be older than its expected 25-year lifetime,” the report states. “This means that in addition to our growing electricity needs, our capacity gap will increase by over 8GW.

“The power supplied by onshore windfarms in the UK each year could decrease from 30TWh to 10TWh over these 20 years if no new onshore sites are built during that time.

“This represents losing 17 per cent of the UK’s current renewable energy sources generation at a time when decarbonising the power sector is a priority.”

Renewable UK has modelled three different scenarios for the future repowering of windfarms – optimal, intermediate and low – reflecting variables such as the likelihood of generators applying to repower their sites and the success rate of planning applications.

Of the 8.3GW of existing onshore wind capacity expected to reach retirement age by 2040, the reports says 5.5GW would be lost in the low scenario and 2GW in the intermediate scenario. It says the use of newer, larger turbines to repower windfarms could bring about a 4GW increase in capacity in the optimal scenario.

Repowering scenarios

Renewable UK says the government and local authorities should commit to maintaining the current onshore wind capacity in the coming decades and implement policies to support the repowering of old windfarms.

One of the main issues that needs to be addressed is a “lack of visibility” over the planning process. The report says the government should develop “clear planning guidance” setting out agreed criteria for the assessment of applications, adding: “There should be a presumption in favour of granting evergreen planning consent, subject to the usual conditions dealing with decommissioning and restoration at the end of the life of the windfarm.”

It also highlights the continued exclusion of onshore wind projects from contracts for difference auctions and calls for an “appropriate market mechanism” to enable repowering.

Renewable UK 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.”

Speakers will be discussing how the UK can reach net zero carbon emissions at the Utility Week Energy Summit on 13 June. Click here for more details.