What Particular spatial, environmental and public constraints are presented for the UK wind projects’ development and success? Can they be managed?

In the UK, wind energy is one of the most promising renewable resources. Great Britain has the best wind resources in Europe and one of the best resources around the world.  Wind energy is currently the UK’s major renewable energy supplier (2.2 % of total electricity supply). According to the Committee for Climate Change [1], the UK is able to produce 31 % of its total electricity supply through offshore and onshore wind power.

However there are several issues that impede the UK to make the most out of its wind resources. First of all there is the issue of geographical mismatch. The main energy resources are cited in the North while the major energy consumption is in the south of the UK.

Another issue is transmission. Considering the fact that the energy production and demand will increase and that wind energy will play a key role along with the fact that the current grid of the country is incapable to satisfy the UK’s demand without any reinforcement, especially in the North, it is understandable that transmission is a rather significant issue.

However the scope of this blog is to identify what environmental and spatial constraints and externalities barrier the development and exploitation of the UK’s wind energy resources. Moreover it tries to identify and analyze the correlation between public attitude and wind projects’ success and development, in order to conclude on whether the above mentioned impediments could be managed.

Spatial, Topographical and Public Considerations and Constraints

The UK has a Technical potential of onshore energy around 300 TWh/yr however the practicable potential is only 8 TWh/yr, where technical potential stands for the assessment of the amount of useful energy that could be extracted from UK’s wind energy resources while practicable potential stands for the “accessible” potential. In Table 1 the data for the offshore wind potential is also shown.

Table 1 On shore and off shore UK potential [2]

This vast difference between technical and practicable potential is obviously due to several constraints that barrier the development of several wind projects. These constraints have mainly to do with the environmental impact of wind turbines, spatial and topographical issues and finally with the public attitude towards wind projects. 

Environmental Considerations

Planning of a wind energy project should always take into account the environmental impact of wind turbines. The main impacts on the environment are noise, electromagnetic interference and visual impact.

Noise: Wind turbines produce two kinds of noise: Mechanical noise that is caused from the gear box and the generator of the turbine and aerodynamic noise that is caused by the coactions of wind with the blades of the turbine. In Denmark, the maximum acceptable wind turbine noise level in open country side is 45 db (A) and 40db (A) in residential areas. In the UK there is no specific noise limit for wind turbines. The higher acceptable noise level in the UK is 68 db (A)-referring to buildings near roads. Figure 2 shows the noise levels related to distance.

Figure 1 Noise levels and distance from turbine [3]

Electromagnetic Interference: The wind turbine can severely affect the signal of radio, television or microwave if it is cited between the transmitter and the receiver, since it may reflect some of the radiation causing interference between the original wave and the reflected one.

Visual Impact: Visual impact of the turbines has to do with the local community’s attitude towards wind farms and with several other design factors. However flickering, which is caused by interference between sunlight and the blades of the turbine can be really disturbing for residents that have visual contact with the turbines [3]. 

Spatial and Topographical issues

Before the set out of the planning of wind projects several topographical and spatial issues have to be taken into account. One major constraint that could seriously affect the planning of a wind farm is the shape and the hostility of the terrain at the building site. In particular, uneven and hostile terrains can severely affect the three-dimensional wind flow and increase the mechanical fatigue of the blades; therefore they can affect the Wind Turbines’ (WT) energy efficiency and life time [4]. In Figure 7 we can see how several terrains affect the wind flow.

Figure 2 Wind Profile on several terrains

Other studies [5] are more specific on the constraint factors that affect the planning of wind farms. They categorize the constraints as topographic, wind speed and direction, land use/cover, population, access, resources, hydrology, ecology and historical/cultural resource. Table 2 accumulates these criteria and constraints.

Table 2 Criteria and constraint that affect wind energy projects planning

A recent case study for Wales [6], categorizes on a more general and clear way the constraint factors. According to this there are three major categories of constraint factors. These are namely, the absolute constraints which are general rules and facts that block the creation of a wind farm, the localized constraints which are factors that impede wind farm projects, but they have to do with local conditions, facts and rules, and finally there are electricity distribution issues and additional criteria for the area selection, which criteria that cannot be fitted to any of the above categories. These constraints factors are summarized on Table 3.

Table 3 Constraining factors for wind energy development projects

 Figure 2 displays the National parks’ area (Absolute or Ecology constraints) across the UK.

Figure 3 Land Use Restrictions [7]

Public issues and Management

A quite important factor that has to be taken into account before we start planning a wind farm is the local population on the building site. Most people do not like the idea that wind farms are about to be built near the area of their residence. There are several case studies that indicate how public attitude affects wind projects.

Quite Recently a study [8] has been conducted in the UK in order to find whether there was correlation between the decisions concerning wind farm planning made by the local authorities and the attitude of local officers, parish councils and landscape protection groups. The study concluded that the opinion of the local population and their understanding on wind farm projects significantly affected the final decisions of the local authorities.

A reasonable question rising is how did Denmark manage to become the leading Nation in Wind Energy development while the UK has better wind resources. Is it because the Danish happen to like the way wind turbines look? In fact Denmark has started to develop very early its Wind Industry. The Danish government in the early 1970s promoted very actively the development of renewable energy and strongly encouraged investors to invest on wind energy, in order to be less depended on oil. However Denmark also faced severe public constraints, which have been overcome when the government encouraged small investors- through taxation, subsidies etc.- to enter wind market, and allowed ordinary people to get involved [9]. Another study [10] on the Danish case indicates that people’s participation has played a very significant role on Denmark’s Wind Industry development.

If we take a look in the case of the UK we would see that it is different from the Danish case. According to a UK case study [11], concerning England and Wales, the local community did not have the opportunity to seriously participate or get involved with the wind projects at their residential area. In addition to that, a study on Wind energy planning in England, Denmark and Wales [12] concludes that wind projects in which public gets highly involved are more likely to be accepted and successful. 


  1. Committee on Climate Change. (2008) Building a low carbon technology-The UK’s contribution to tackling climate change. http://www.theccc.org.uk/pdfs/key%20messages%20-%2012%20page%20version.pdf
  2. Gross, R. (2004) Technologies and innovation for system change in the UK: status, prospects, and system requirements of some leading renewable energy options, Energy PolicyNo. 17, November, pp. 1905-1919, Elsevier/ScienceDirect/http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2004.03.017
  3. Boyle, G., (1996) Renewable Energy: Power for a Sustainable Future, Oxford: Oxford University Press and The Open University
  4. Botta, G., Cavaliere, M., Viani, S., and Pospí, S. (1998) Effects of hostile terrains on wind turbine performances and loads: The Acqua Spruzza experience, Journal of Wind Engineering and Industrial Aerodynamics, Vol. 74-76, pp.419-431, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0167-6105(98)00038-5
  5. Baband, S., and Parry, T., (2001) Developing and applying a GIS-assisted approach to locating wind farms in the UK, Renewable Energy, Vol. 24, September, pp.59-71, Pergamon/ScienceDirect/  http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0960-1481(00)00169-5
  6. Cowell, R., (2009) Wind power, landscape and strategic, spatial planning—The construction of ‘acceptable locations’ in Wales, Land Use Policy,  http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.landusepol.2009.01.006
  7. Dartmoor National Park Authority. (2009) Maps.  http://www.dartmoor-npa.gov.uk/text/vi-map-nationalparks-citiesmotorways.gif
  8. Toke, D., (2005) D. Toke, Explaining wind power planning outcomes: some findings from a study in England and Wales, Energy Policy [Electronic], Vol. 33, No. 12, August, pp. 1527-1539, Elsevier/ScienceDirect/http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2004.01.009
  9. Krohn, S., (2002) The Wind Turbine Market in Denmark,


10.  Christensen, P., and Lund, H., (1998) Conflicting views of sustainability: The case of wind power and nature conservation in Denmark, European Environment

11.  Devine-Wright, P., McAlpine, G., et al., (2001). Wind turbines in the landscape: an evaluation of local community involvement and other considerations in UK wind farm development. In: 32nd Annual Conference of the Environmental Design Research Association, Edinburgh, Scotland

12.  Loring, J., M., (2006) Wind energy planning in England, Wales and Denmark: Factors influencing project success, Energy Policy Vol. 35, No. 4, April, pp. 2648-2660, Available: Elsevier/ ScienceDirect/ http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2006.10.008

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