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  World's Largest Offshore Windfarm Opens in UK
The recent opening of the world's largest offshore wind farm once again puts the focus on green energy and all that goes with it.

The 300 megawatt Thanet Offshore Wind Farm is made up of 100 turbines off the south east coast of England. It is expected to operate for more than 25 years and provide power for in excess of 200,000 homes.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne, a well-known supporter of wind power, believes the UK can become a world leader in the industry and should be utilising wind, wave and tidal resources. However, the claim seems a little hollow due to the wind farm having been built by Swedish energy firm Vattenfall. This does rather call into question the level of expertise available in the UK.

Nevertheless, the UK government is committed to low carbon energy and has ambitious plans to develop the necessary technology and create many jobs in the process. But there remain serious doubts about how cost-effective wind energy really is, especially when back-up power generation plant is needed for the times when the wind blows too strongly or not at all, resulting in the turbines not operating.

Going green to any significant extent will require serious amounts of investment. But with money in short supply and budgets being cut, there are questions about where the funding will come from. Despite this, the coalition government has reaffirmed its commitment to reducing carbon emissions by 30% in line with EU-wide targets. Therefore, one assumes it has some idea of how it will achieve its aims?

Aside from wind power, which can't really be expected to meet Britain's needs, the big hope seems to be that new nuclear power plants will fill the void. However, a new nuclear power station takes around ten years to build and the government has said it will not be providing the money for their construction. Additionally, it hasn't given much encouragement for private industry to put up the £6 billion that a typical nuclear power station costs, with no guarantees on energy prices when they're finished. UK construction companies do need some encouragement to organise their capabilities and skills, otherwise all the deals are likely to go to overseas firms.

One of the latest initiatives to improve environmental impact is the government's Green Deal, which aims to improve the insulation of millions of homes and business premises. Under the deal, householders can have £6,500 of home insulation improvements funded by loans from energy companies. The loans will then be repaid through the money from the resulting energy savings. Chris Huhne claims that this could create up to 250,000 jobs to improve the insulation of 26 million homes as well as business premises. Welsh construction companies have already benefited from a similar government scheme that aims to provide improved insulation for around 6,000 homes at a cost of £30 million.

The scheme has been welcomed but there are some concerns as well because much of the detail has not yet been fleshed out. It is generally felt that there needs to be a means of ensuring that only reputable installers are allowed to participate in the scheme. This may require approval under an existing scheme or the creation of a new accreditation body. There's also a view that claims about the effectiveness of products used in the scheme will need to be independently verified, again through an existing or new body. However, setting up new organisations seems unlikely at a time when the government is busily getting rid of qangos and other bodies.

CITB-Construction Skills has raised concerns about the proposed creation of 250,000 jobs to meet the demand for improved insulation. Although it believes the scheme is good news for construction businesses, it is keen to ensure that the new recruits are adequately trained and have the necessary skills to do the job. Incorporating the latest energy-efficient technologies in homes and businesses will require that installers have up-to-date knowledge and skills if targets are to be met.

The Green Deal will contribute to the government's aim for all homes to achieve zero carbon status by 2016. However, there is no clear definition of what this is nor how much it is likely to add to the cost of a home, which is a concern when house prices are static at best.

Green developments do offer possibilities for construction companies providing the requirements are clearly defined and properly funded. But with budgets being cut and a comprehensive spending review being undertaken, it remains to be seen whether the recent rhetoric actually leads to funding and job creation in the green sector.


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