UK aims for wind domination

1 January 2002

UK companies are aiming to become major players in the world renewables market, with a series of ambitious plans for off- and onshore windfarms totalling more than 2000 MW Leonard Sanford

The UK currently has around 500 MW of wind generation capacity, mostly in small onshore sites of a few MW (see Table 1) and one small offshore site with two turbines. But during the next few years it will be building some of the largest onshore and offshore sites in the world consisting of several hundred turbines at a stretch and producing power station sized megawattage.

The government has the job of supporting renewables in order to meet its international obligations, while at the same time making it acceptable to the public, which will be paying for this initiative through government research grants, wholesale price support, or in higher electricity prices at the door.

The necessary legislation is already in place, principally the Scottish Renewables Order and the National Fossil Fuel Obligation. Individual generators and suppliers will have to produce ten percent of their output from renewables, either by making it themselves or buying it from those that do. The buy out price will be 3p/kWh, twice the price of the most expensive alternative, nuclear; so it's no great surprise that important players such as British Energy and London Electricity are getting into the wind business. Most of the developers are partnerships set up by larger concerns to exploit the new market, and as a result a number of new larger scale inland sites such as Redcar and North Wind are in hand, together with a great many offshore projects.

Current plans of the UK government underpin a long term objective - to establish a powerful wind energy manufacturing and building industry, supporting a strong domestic wind energy component. Wind energy forms a major contributor to the government's stated ambition of creating a £1 billion renewables market by 2010, driven by legislation and a £260 million support programme over three years, £64 million of it going to wind. The Irish government is pursuing a similar course in supporting the building of Arklow Bank, an extraordinarily ambitious project located in the Irish Sea.

The UK renewables target is 5 GW (although a more meaningful figure would take into account the unreliability of the supply) by the year 2010, representing around 10 per cent of total UK energy generation at current levels. Even in this context the 600 MW Lewis project represents a huge leap in unit size and commitment, an attempt to jump at one bound into the first division of the world renewables league.

Energy minister Brian Wilson recognises that there is at present no infrastructure to support substantial amounts of generation in the western isles and has commissioned a feasibility study looking into the scope for an undersea HVDC link the length of the Irish sea, linking up renewables sites mainly on the west coast of Britain and the Scottish islands and connecting them directly to the mainland grid.

Europe's largest wind farm

The UK is reckoned to be the site of 40 per cent of the total potential for renewables in Europe, principally wind and wave power, and a good deal of this is wind energy experienced by Scottish islands off the NW coast. One of these islands, Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, is the prospective site for an ambitious windfarm project, a 300 turbine, 600 MW array sited near the eastern shoreline. Joint developers are Amec and British Energy, but nothing will happen until the completion of Amec's detailed feasibility study, currently under way, covering cost, location and environmental impact and due at end-2002.

This project to create Europe's largest wind farm, along with a cable link to the UK mainland grid, will cost £600 million over the next six years. At full output it will represent about 1 per cent of UK electricity consumption.

Benefits to the regional community would be considerable in terms of local employment and revenue and would establish the Western Isles as the 'renewables capital of Europe'. It is also likely to necessitate the re-opening of local fabrication facility Arnish Point, as a turbine and tower manufacturing plant.

The North Wind project

A 19 windmill 47.5 MW plan submitted by Corus and Amec Wind will be the largest wind farm located on a brownfield site in the world. The 2.5 MW turbine towers will be constructed on a major industrial site on the south bank of the River Tees, NE England, owned by Corus, which is keen to develop partnerships with the wind industry. Project partners and supporters include the local borough council. Planning approval is expected by April, allowing construction on the £30m project to start in 2002.

Offshore projects

The Crown Estate, which owns certain rights over a large portion of the waters just off the British coast, has sold wind farm rights to 18 developers in 13 different areas. Each area is made up of one, two or three10 km2 sites limited to a maximum of thirty windmills and a minimum of 20 MW output. The towers are likely to be positioned between 2.3 and 10 km from the shore.

The first project in this category to get under way is another Amec development. The company, which has developed 14 MW of windfarms around the UK, is to build a wind farm in the North Sea off the Lincolnshire coast, under the site name Lynn. The facility will involve 30 turbines, between five and ten km offshore. It will generate 60 to 75 MW of electricity, depending on turbine size, and cost around £90 million with an earliest construction start date during 2004. Offshore wind is a key business area for Amec, which built the UK's first offshore wind farm, at Blyth, opened in December 2000.

Irish giant

In a joint venture with the Irish company Fehily Timoney Gifford, Danish undersea specialist Rambøll has won the first phase in the establishment of the Arklow Bank Wind Park in the Irish Republic, the first major international offshore wind turbine project. The developers, Sure Partners (a wholly owned subsidiary of Eirtricity, Ireland's largest green utility), expect to receive permission to install 200 offshore windmills along the banks. Rambøll, with construction experience at Utgrunden, and involvement in 11 other current offshore projects in Sweden, is undertaking the first phase with assistance from Tripod Consult Aps and SEAS A.m.b.A. The site covers 50 km2 and is situated off the south-east coast. The first phase has a budget in excess of DKK 500m (£40 m) and will extend to the end of 2002. Initially, 15-25 windmills will be built, creating one of the largest offshore sites in Europe. It will also be the first to be constructed in this depth of water.

Rambøll will undertake the conceptual design, tendering, contracting and supervision of the wind park's construction, and has been involved in carrying out the environmental impact assessment. The wind park will be developed in phases, but when fully developed it will generate 500 MW, corresponding to over 10 per cent of Ireland's requirements.

Table 1. The UK’s largest operating windfarms
Table 3. Projected offshore sites in the UK

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