The lay of the land…and sea
Wales, as with the rest of the UK, has an abundance of natural resources. Blessed with one of the world’s largest tidal ranges and vast expanses of hilly, open land, Wales has an enormous amount of potential.
We have seen wind technology in particular move from the first large scale turbine installations at Mynydd Gorddu, with construction completed in 1998, to the newest technology at Clocaenog Forest Wind Farm, Denbigh, which officially opened in July 2022.
Offshore has developed on the north coast of Wales as well as the development of the Celtic Sea demonstration zone and associated supporting shore-based infrastructure at Pembroke Dock.
How does Wales stack up?
- Wind Energy
With substantial wind energy potential, both onshore and offshore, Wales has seen an increase in wind farms spreading across the country.
Managed by Vattenfall, the Pen y Cymoedd Wind Farm in Treorchy, south Wales is the largest onshore wind farm in Wales and England, with its 76 turbines and 22MW battery. The wind farm has the capacity to produce enough electricity to supply 15% of Welsh homes each year.
Offshore wind energy projects are also contributing to Wales’s renewable energy portfolio, including the world’s second largest offshore wind farm, Gwynt y Môr Wind Farm. Located 15km off the coast of north Wales, the wind farm boasts 160 wind turbine generators. Also of note is the proposed Awel y Môr Offshore Wind Farm, led by the largest renewable energy operator in Wales, RWE.
While north Wales has many off shore projects, the Pembrokeshire coastline is also offering its offshore wind power potential, with the EDF Renewables Gwynt Glas floating offshore wind farm. The proposed project could provide power for approximately 920,000 homes.
Hydropower is a viable renewable energy source due to Wales’s numerous rivers and waterways. Providing clean energy to local communities, small and micro hydropower schemes are in operation across Wales. Natural Resources Wales is responsible for issuing Water Abstraction Licences, as the abstraction of water for any hydropower scheme in Wales requires a licence.
- Tidal Energy
Wales has one of the largest tidal ranges in the world. While there is a lot of potential for tidal energy, no project has yet been completed.
Initial exploration has been made into projects such as the Severn Barrage and Tidal Lagoon (Swansea Bay), showing the potential to take advantage of the Bristol Channel.
However, while the southern coastline of Wales shows the potential to provide consistent and predictable power, the tidal stream surrounding north Wales is equally impressive.
Morlais – Anglesey Marine Energy – Ynni Môr Môn aims to generate clean low carbon electricity, while also benefitting local communities and the economy. With a 35 km2 area of seabed off the coast of Holy Island, Anglesey, the Morlais project is in its second phase of development. Tidal stream devices will be installed gradually into the zone, limiting impact on marine wildlife.
- Solar Energy
Solar is a valuable source of renewable energy and contributes to decentralized energy generation. Wales has seen an increase in photovoltaic (PV) installations, particularly on residential and commercial rooftops. On a larger scale, the UK’s largest solar PV project, Shotwick Solar Park is located in Deeside, Flintshire and generates 72.2 MW, supporting a paper manufacturing plant.
- Biomass Energy
Derived from organic materials like wood and agricultural residues, biomass is used for heating and electricity generation. Anaerobic digestion is also a developing area that can not only provide an energy source but also answer some of the issues we have with regard to the joint treatment of animal slurry and human waste.
In 2017, Welsh Government set a number of targets for renewable energy and emissions reductions in Wales. These targets included: ‘Wales to generate 70% of its electricity consumption from renewable energy by 2030’; ‘1GW of renewable electricity capacity in Wales to be locally owned by 2030’; ‘all new renewable energy projects to have at least an element of local ownership by 2020’.
A consultation was published in January 2023, with Climate Change Minister Julie James proposing a revised target for ‘at least 1.5GW of renewable energy capacity to be locally owned by 2035.’ (While this target excludes heat pumps, a separate target has been set for ‘5.5GW of renewable energy capacity to be produced by heat pumps by 2035, but this is subject to scaled up support from the UK Government and reductions in the cost of technology.’)
Demonstrating the progress that Wales had made in promoting renewable generation in Wales, in September 2022 the first biannual update on the Renewable Energy Deep Dive was published.
The second biannual update on the Renewable Energy Deep Dive was published in April 2023, and covered the period between October 2022 and March 2023. The exercise underlined ‘some of the more significant activity’ and recommendations that were detailed in the first update.
Initiatives and policies are in place to promote the growth of the renewable energy sector and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Future Wales 2040, a land use framework recently came into being, which has pre assessed Strategic Resource Areas for land-based development that is overseen by a new body, Planning and Environment Decisions Wales (PEDW).
In 2022, Welsh Government announced plans to set up a publicly owned energy firm. Trydan Gwyrdd Cymru will become the UK’s only government-run company of its kind, with the aim to develop onshore wind farms using Welsh Government’s own woodland estate.
Wind force for work force
The renewable energy sector continues to contribute to job creation and economic growth in Wales. This is particularly true in rural areas where many wind and hydropower projects are located.
Power to the people
Like the Morlais project in Anglesey, community-based renewable energy projects are gaining traction in Wales. Local communities invest in renewable energy installations while also benefitting from them, offering a sense of ownership.
Yet, Wales has faced many challenges. Grid connectivity, concerns related to environmental impacts, community engagement and securing adequate funding have all been factors that can make or break renewable energy projects.
A priority for Wales has been balancing the growth of renewable energy with the conservation of natural landscapes. And while the planning process for renewable energy projects can be complex and time-consuming, it is paramount that impact assessments are undertaken to minimize their ecological footprint.
While wind and solar are intermittent energy sources and dependent on weather conditions, to address this challenge, the development of energy storage solutions is essential. Grid integration and connectivity are also a concern. While integrating renewable energy into the grid, it is essential to upgrade and expand the infrastructure to accommodate increasing capacity accordingly. This is crucial to ensure a stable and reliable energy supply.
Not being able to secure adequate funding and investment can severely compromise the success of a renewable energy project. Crucial to expanding the renewable energy sector are public and private sector investments.
What does the future hold?
While challenges exist, Wales is making headway toward a more sustainable and environmentally friendly energy future. Further reducing carbon emissions, and creating green jobs, Wales will to continue expand its renewable energy capacity.
With a diverse mix of energy sources, government support, community involvement, and environmental considerations, the renewable energy landscape in Wales is evolving.
A not-for profit umbrella organisation, Net Zero Industry Wales which is made up of member organisations, aims to make Wales ‘the country of choice for sustainable goods and services’ and ‘to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions and limit global warming to well below 2°C as set out in the Paris Agreement.’
How we can help
Understanding local, devolved nations, UK and the global fabric of the renewables sector is critical to us as a communications agency in order to convey all elements that affect the development of renewables.
The concerns of citizens and communities regarding the impact of development need to be listened to and responded to and as a global agency with local, bilingual reach in Wales, we are ideally positioned to fulfil these requirements.