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LONDON (Reuters) - Expected offshore wind deployment by 2020 may be far below levels the country needs to meet European Union renewable energy goals, a director at the government-funded Carbon Trust said Tuesday.
Industry expectations are for 19-24 gigawatts of offshore wind power by the end of the decade, said Benj Sykes, director of innovations at the Carbon Trust, based on informal soundings of leading players.
That contrasted with the 29 GW the organisation says is needed to meet a legally binding EU target for Britain to get 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by the end of the decade.
"We're looking to close that gap," Sykes told Reuters. The Carbon Trust is meant to drive carbon cuts across the economy.
"We agree that 19-24 GW is definitely achievable. We may need more, depending on what happens around heat and transport."
The EU target refers to heat, power and transport, and if Britain achieves more in one area, then it will have to do less in others. When generating at capacity, 1 gigawatt can power about 1 million homes.
Successive governments have pin-pointed offshore wind as a vital part of the country's efforts to cut carbon emissions and replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.
However, the present government has set no specific target, while the previous Labour government said 33 GW was feasible by 2020 but had a "lead scenario" of 13 GW, in a strategic review of Britain's energy needs.
"There have been a lot of numbers flying around," said Sykes. "That's not been helpful."
Britain's statutory advisers, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), said last year it would like to see 13 GW of offshore wind installed by 2020 and that a failure to meet that goal would put more dependence on nuclear power to meet emission targets.
The difference with the Carbon Trust's figures was a result of differences in how the target is split between technologies.
"The Carbon Trust analysis assumes lower contributions from heat and transport and so requires more from electricity. It also assumes that less of that (electricity) comes from other technologies," such as onshore wind, said a CCC spokeswoman.
Britain is currently consulting on levels of support for new offshore wind power projects after 2014.
"We want the market to deliver our overall renewable energy target using the most efficient mix," said a spokesman at the energy and climate change ministry.
"As part of the work to develop our renewables roadmap, we will be working with industry to get a better understanding of how far, fast the industry could scale up for 2020."
It would be helpful for offshore wind industry players, especially in the supply chain, to be sure of the scale of ambition and that support would continue beyond 2020, said Sykes.
Britain's Crown Estate, which manages the country's offshore resources, has announced private sector bids to develop just under 50 GW of offshore wind power.
Editing by Jane Baird