LONDON – Britain unveiled plans Monday to generate enough electricity through offshore wind farms to power every home in the country by 2020, increasing production more than 60-fold and changing the look of its coastlines.
Britain's wind-swept coasts and shallow waters are ideal for offshore turbines, but wind generated power currently accounts for less than 2 percent of its energy generation.
Business secretary John Hutton said the government planned to reach the target through a fourfold increase in the amount of space off Britain's shores allocated for wind farms.
The move would change Britain's coasts, Hutton acknowledged, but said the need for energy self-sufficiency left the country no choice. He said the plans would depend on environmental impact studies.
"But if we could manage to achieve this, by 2020 enough electricity could be generated off our shores to power the equivalent of all of the U.K.'s homes," Hutton said in a statement.
The British Wind Energy Association, a trade body that represents the country's wind and marine energy industries, welcomed plans for more offshore wind farm sites, but it said it would be difficult to raise Britain's wind power production from half a gigawatt currently to 33 gigawatts by 2020 — the equivalent of the energy now consumed by every British home.
Eight gigawatts' worth of wind generation projects are already planned, but the group said the limited supply of turbines meant the amount of wind energy produced by 2020 would likely be closer to 20 gigawatts.
"We'd really be struggling from a 'Where can we get the turbines?'" point of view, the association's economics director Gordon Edge said.
Environmental campaigners and opposition lawmakers welcomed the plan, but some noted that wind generated power is expensive.
Wind power-generated electricity is currently costlier to generate than its coal- or gas-generated counterpart.
Massive new offshore wind farms, such as the 1 gigawatt London project planned for the Thames estuary in the country's southeast, are due to go online by 2014.
According to the BWEA, the country is on track to overtake Denmark as the world's largest generator of offshore wind power next year.