Britain was today declared a world leader in wind power generation, as the Government announced a major programme to cut the cost of off-shore wind farms.

Under the £30 million Offshore Wind Accelerator scheme, designed by the Carbon Trust, the cost of transforming wind into usable energy should be reduced by 10 per cent.

The savings would mean the cost of every kilowatt hour of electricity produced by offshore windfarms would drop from 9p to 8p. Five international "major players" in the offshore wind industry have signed up to the plan.

Danish firm Dong Energy, German RWE Innogy, Scottish Power Renewable and Norwegian company StatoiHydro will join forces with the UK's Airtricity Developments to find ways of trimming the cost of running wind farms, and increasing the amount of electricity that each turbine generates.

It is hoped that increasing the efficiency of collecting electricity from offshore wind farms will help the UK reach its 2020 target of sourcing 20 per cent of its energy supply from renewable sources. The UK has overtaken Denmark to become the world's leading exponent of off-shore wind farms. The achievement has been made possible after building work finished at Centrica's Lynn and Inner Dowsing wind farms near Skegness.

Mike O'Brien, Minister of State at the new Department of Energy and Climate Change, said: "As the Prime Minister himself said this morning, we are now getting 3 gigawatts of our electricity capacity from wind power. That's enough to power more than 1.5 million homes. Offshore wind makes up 20 per cent of that capacity and the wind farms I am visiting today are the ones that have made the UK the world's number one for offshore wind power, knocking Denmark off the top spot."

He added: "Offshore wind is hugely important to help realise the Government's ambition to dramatically increase the amount of energy from renewable sources. Overtaking Denmark is just the start. There are already five more offshore wind farms under construction that will add a further 938 megawatts to our total by the end of next year. We are also assessing plans to increase the total by a massive 25 gigawatts in the future. That's enough electricity for every home in the country.

"This will ultimately help in the fight against climate change and further secure the UK's energy supplies - two of the goals of the new Department of Energy and Climate Change."

Offshore wind farms now have the potential to power the equivalent of around 300,000 UK homes. Wind power has been widely seen as having the most potential for generating enough energy to reduce the UK's reliance on fossil fuels. But the cost of harnessing its power has more than doubled in the past five years, hampering its use in Britain.

Mark Williamson, director of innovations at the Carbon Trust said: "Offshore wind has huge potential to cut the UK's carbon emissions, generate thousands of new jobs and help us meet our 2020 renewable targets. "But high costs and risks have been seriously holding back deployment. We've identified a range of opportunities to reduce costs, increase performance and improve the economic viability of offshore wind farms."

Under the new agreement the companies would take a "collaborative approach" to developing offshore wind turbines, and share the costs and risks. The new plans include using wind turbines that cost less to install, finding better ways to access the farms while they are being built, minimising the amount of energy that is leaked as it travels from the turbine to the shore.

ScottishPower renewables director Keith Anderson said: "The enormous offshore wind resource will play a key role in meeting UK renewables targets. "But to deploy the resource quickly we will need to overcome a number of technical issues. We therefore welcome this programme which aims to resolve these issues in a collaborative manner."

Dr Paddy O'Kane, general manager of technical services at Airtricity Developments, said the plans were "a significant step forward" but warned that further measures would be required. "While the cost of producing energy from onshore wind farms continues to converge with energy costs from conventional power plants, advances are still required to accelerate the cost competitiveness of constructing offshore," he said.


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.