U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently unveiled his ten-point plan for a “Green Industrial Revolution” for the United Kingdom. The very first point is to transform the U.K. into “the Saudi Arabia of wind,” which includes building enough “offshore capacity to power every home by 2030.”
LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 04: Prime minister Boris Johnson attends the launch of the UK-hosted … [+] COP26 UN Climate Summit, being held in partnership with Italy this autumn in Glasgow, at the Science Museum on February 4, 2020 in London, England. Johnson will reiterate the government’s commitment to net zero by the 2050 target and call for international action to achieve global net zero emissions. The PM is also expected to announce plans to bring forward the current target date for ending new petrol and diesel vehicle sales in the UK from 2040 to 2035, including hybrid vehicles for the first time. (Photo by Jeremy Selwyn – WPA Pool/Getty Images)
This sounds like a grand and bold plan, but in reality, holding up Saudi Arabia as a benchmark for achievement in the energy sector is unfeasible and unreachable.
1) Wind power continues to suffer from technical and feasibility issues. Unlike oil and gas, which are Saudi Arabia’s lifeblood, the wind needed to power wind turbines does not always blow. In fact, Britain recently suffered a shortage of wind power which necessitated firing up old coal plants to ensure the national grid would have enough power to meet electricity demand. It is dangerous to rely too much on a single form of energy, especially one in which the supply depends on uncontrollable factors like the weather. Significant leaps in energy-storage technology are needed in order to ensure that periodic lapses in wind power generation do not translate into country-wide blackouts. In other words, the technology is not yet available to make Johnson’s dream a reality.
Storage tanks stand at an oil processing facility in Saudi Aramco’s Shaybah oilfield in the Rub’ … [+] Al-Khali (Empty Quarter) desert in Shaybah, Saudi Arabia, on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018. Saudi Aramco aims to become a global refiner and chemical maker, seeking to profit from parts of the oil industry where demand is growing the fastest while also underpinning the kingdom’s economic diversification. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
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2) Saudi Arabia actually exports most of the oil it produces. It also uses domestically produced oil and gas to power its entire country, feed its robust petrochemicals industry and fuel domestic and air transportation. Johnson wants to produce enough wind to power every home domestically, but that is not enough to be like Saudi Arabia. To be like Saudi Arabia, the U.K. would need to export massive amounts of wind power too.
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WALLASEY, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 19: Wind turbines of Burbo Bank Offshore Wind Farm in the Irish Sea on … [+] November 19, 2020 in Wallasey, England. The UK Government released details of its ten point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution hoping to create 250,000 jobs. It includes stepping up offshore wind production to power every home, working with the Hydrogen industry to generate 5GW of low carbon hydrogen by 2030, advancing nuclear energy and backing the manufacturing of and accelerating the transition to electric vehicles. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)
3) Saudi Arabia succeeds, in part, because of its exceptional natural resources. Saudi Arabia uniquely has the world’s second largest oil reserves, the world’s most easily accessible oil, and some of the best quality oil. Britain has wind, but so does almost everyone else. Britain also lacks any special proprietary technology that would mean it does a better job of harnessing the energy of the wind. Other countries do not need British wind power.
Increasing the percentage of wind power that is part of Britain’s energy mix is a valuable goal but trying to become the “Saudi Arabia of wind” in ten years is simply hyperbole.