UK Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark MP has this week approved DONG Energy’s Hornsea Two offshore wind farm, the largest of its kind in the world. The move is likely to reassure the renewable sector and green campaigners alike that the newly formed Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy sees offshore wind as a key component of the wider industrial plan for the UK.

The development will be made up of up to 300 turbines and have a total capacity of up to 1.8GW. DONG Energy say this will meet the electricity needs of approximately 1.6 million UK homes every year. Despite the planning consent, the scheme is not without controversy with serious concerns raised about the possible impact on seascape views, wildlife and ecology. In its recommendation to the Minister however, the Planning Inspectorate concluded that the adverse impacts were not of sufficient significance to override the increasing national need for renewable energy  generation.

Changes to energy policy earlier this year had threatened the future of the wind energy generation in England with critics suggesting David Cameron had moved his party well away from the ‘Vote Blue, Go Green’ vision that had so defined his 2010 General Election campaign.  While this latest move sees Theresa May’s Government standing by the Party’s 2015 manifesto pledge to halt onshore wind development subsidy, it also recognises the potential of the offshore energy generation capacity we have in Britain.

The project will be licensed by the Crown Estate which owns virtually the entire seabed out to the 12 nautical mile territorial limit. Crown Estate’s own data shows that the UK already generates more electricity from offshore wind than any other country. Currently the sector meets approximately 5% of annual demand in the UK but as Hornsea Project Two and other similar developments come on line, we can expect this to double in the next 5 years.

The planning consent, granted in the wake of the Prime Minister’s decision to delay the Hinkley Point nuclear project could be an important indicator of future policy change.  The Crown Estate’s figures suggest that Hinkley will cover just 7% of the UK’s energy needs by 2020, falling well behind the projected output for offshore wind. This capacity potential for offshore wind energy means it could be a major player in the UK’s wider energy mix. While it is still early days in terms of this Government setting out it’s key priorities, this could be the beginnings of a concerted push by Government to pursue a low carbon industrial strategy.