Jun 30 2016

Brexit: A Sea of Uncertainty for Ocean Renewables?

Published by under Student blog entries and tagged: , , , ,

(Illustration: Patrick Chappatte / International New York Times ©)

First things first. Like most Americans, I don’t know squat about Brexit.

It just seems like one of those far-away things to laugh about.

Like when late-night host Stephen Colbert quipped1, following wimpy Iceland’s stunning defeat of powerhouse England in the Euro Cup soccer tournament on Monday night:

“This is the worst thing to happen to England in four days.”

For UK ocean renewables though, Brexit is the sound of serious uncertainty washing over a fledgling industry.

Already, Germany energy company Siemens froze any new UK wind power investment.While a factory will still produce blades and turbines (for now), the firm is holding its bets until financial markets simmer down, and “the future of the UK’s relationship with Europe becomes clearer.”

Photo by Paul Bullen, © Getty Images

Forboding clouds over a UK offshore wind farm. (Photo: Paul Bullen / Getty Images ©)

On the flipside, Danish offshore wind giant Dong Energy announced “there won’t be any impact” on plans to invest $8.6 billion in coastal UK wind farms by 2020.3 And because Brexit threatens projects such as the controversial Hinkley Point nuclear plant4, one might expect renewables to pick up the slack. 

So…win?  Not so fast.  Despite having the world’s largest and most advanced offshore wind industry5, the UK is currently the biggest recipient of the European Investment Bank’s (EIB) Climate Awareness Bonds.By ditching the EU, Britain also risks losing “billions of pounds of investment in renewable energy projects such as wind farms and grid upgrades.”7

Ugh. Unfortunately, we can’t just science our way out of this one. As Bill Clinton’s aide James Carville was fond of insisting, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

It's the economy...precious.

“It’s the economy…precious.” – James Carville

Scientists need money too. British labs depend on the EU for a quarter of public research funds.8  83% of UK scientists oppose Brexit.9 Most damning, all 159 Fellows of the Royal Society at the University of Cambridge recently called it “a disaster for British science”, because it stops young scientists from moving freely within Europe.10

Politics are inescapable. Senior research fellow Antony Froggatt says, “the long-term threat to U.K. renewables…depends on how British policymakers decide to act once they’re no longer obligated to meet the EU’s climate targets.”6  The UK Renewable Energy Association reported that “repeated policy interventions of the Government are harming the UK’s position as a global leader, slowing growth rates, and are increasing the likelihood that legally binding 2020 renewable energy targets…will not be achieved.”11

Oh well. At least Brits can no longer claim we Americans are significantly dumber12 than they are:





1. The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. “Stephen Celebrates Iceland’s Win In The Euro Cup Tournament” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 29 June 2016. Web. 29 June 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RI8RyhCl2c4>

2. Nelson, Arthur. Siemens freezes new UK wind power investment following Brexit vote. The Guardian, 28 June 2016. Web. 29 June 2016. <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jun/28/siemens-freezes-new-uk-wind-power-investment-following-brexit-vote>

3. Morales, Alex. Dong’s $8.5 Billion U.K. Wind Plan Undimmed by Threat of Brexit. Bloomberg.com, 28 Jan. 2016. Web. 29 June 2016. <http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-01-28/dong-s-8-5-billion-u-k-wind-plan-undimmed-by-threat-of-brexit>

4.  Landauro, Inti. France Tells EDF to Switch On U.K. Nuclear-Power Project Despite Brexit, Wall Street Journal, 28 June 2016. Web. 29 June 2016. <http://www.wsj.com/articles/france-tells-edf-to-switch-on-u-k-nuclear-power-project-despite-brexit-1467107407>

5. Martin, Richard. Brexit Brings Chaos to Europe’s Clean-Energy Goals. MIT Technology Review, 24 June 2016. Web. 29 June 2016.<https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601776/brexit-brings-chaos-to-europes-clean-energy-goals/>

6. Gallucci, Maria. Brexit Vote 2016: UK Renewable Energy Sector Faces Uncertain Future As June 23 EU Referendum Nears. International Business Times, 7 June 2016. Web. 29 June 2016. <http://www.ibtimes.com/brexit-vote-2016-uk-renewable-energy-sector-faces-uncertain-future-june-23-eu-2377753>

7.  Shankleman, Jessica. Brexit May Lose U.K. Billions in Funding for Climate, Renewables. Bloomberg.com, 2016 Feb. 2. Web. 29 June 2016. <http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-02-02/brexit-may-lose-u-k-billions-in-funding-for-climate-renewables>

8. MacKenzie, Debora. Why Scientists Are So Worried about Brexit, MIT Technology Review, 20 June 2016. Web. 29 June 2016. <https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601721/why-scientists-are-so-worried-about-brexit/>

9. “Brexit Survey 2016.” Nature, Web. 29 June 2016. <http://www.nature.com/polopoly_fs/7.35380!/file/Brexit%20survey_full%20results.pdf>

10. Letters to the Editor. EU Boost to Science, The Times, 9 Mar. 2016. Web. 29 June 2016. <http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/letters/article4709281.ece>

11. REA News. Strong renewable energy growth threatened by recent policy changes, News from the REA, 7 June 2016. Web. 29 June 2016. <https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601721/why-scientists-are-so-worried-about-brexit/>

12. Borowitz, Andy. British Lose Right to Claim that Americans are Dumber, The New Yorker, 24 June 2016. Web. 29 June 2016. <http://www.newyorker.com/humor/borowitz-report/british-lose-right-to-claim-that-americans-are-dumber>

13. Jane (janephilpot). “we’re all thinking it #EURefResults.” 24 June 2016, 4:18am. Tweet.

14. Perticone, Joe (JoePerticone). “Hey United Kingdom imma let you finish but America had one of the greatest #Brexit’s of ALL TIME.” 23 June 2016, 10:27pm. Tweet.

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