As Britain strives to reach European renewable energy targets, the world's largest offshore wind farm is on the rise off the coasts of Kent and Essex. This summer, a new milestone has been reached with the erection of London Array's 100th wind turbine of the 175 turbines to come online in Phase 1 of the project, accounting for 630 megawatts of power.
Onshore wind farms are a sore sight for eyes. In 2010, almost half of the applicants for expanding onshore wind farms were rejected as people vocally opposed the visual impact of the developments on the landscape. But for offshore wind power, efforts are expanding rapidly. Since Britain's first offshore wind farm near Blyth in Northumberland opened in 2000, another 14 farms have been built around the country. Another six are under construction and seven have planning approval.
Suddenly, meeting the European Union's targets of generating 15 per cent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020 doesn't seem so far out of reach. Despite Britain's slow progress towards that goal, the government has estimated that offshore wind alone could meet Britain's current energy demand 10 times over.
“Forty years ago, we were discovering North Sea oil, and now, as we find ourselves on the cusp of a technological revolution, we are sitting on the most fabulous resource once again,” Andrew Pendleton of Friends of the Earth told the Telegraph. “It would be a tragedy if we didn’t exploit it.”
When construction is over, the London Array will generate a significant amount of work for locals as the area becomes a focus of renewable energy expertise. The purpose-built operations and maintenance base will employ 90 staff, including apprentices being trained as wind turbine technicians.
Phase one will be foretelling of the effect of the massive turbine systems on local marine life and fishing activities. The number of turbines in the first phase was reduced from 158 to 175 in order to protect the red-throated divers in the Thames Estuary and further assessment is needed on the wind farm's impact on birds before phase two proceeds.
Britain will be in somewhat of a competition with the North East, where a cluster of wind farms in the Irish Sea is currently the largest in the world. Furthermore, Denmark was generating 26 per cent of its power from wind at the end of 2011, compared to a whopping four per cent in Britain. But despite its slow start, the country is rapidly increasing its capacity and on track to taking the next title as the next wind superpower.
At the opening of the Walney scheme, energy secretary Lib Dem MP Ed Davey said:
"Britain has a lot to be proud of in our growing offshore wind sector. Our island's tremendous natural resource, our research base and a proud history of engineering make this the number one destination for investment in offshore wind.
"And Walney is the newest, biggest and fastest-built jewel in that crown, providing clean power for hundreds of thousands of households.
"Opening Walney during my first week in office lets me underline my commitment to continuing the coalition's work to make this sector a success story for the British economy, not least with the innovation it is driving and the employment it is creating."
DEVELOPING MASSIVE TURBINES
Earlier this year, the US and UK announced plans to collaboratively develop massive floating offshore wind turbines that can be deployed in deep waters further out at sea. Energy ministers from the world's 23 largest economies met in London at the Clean Energy Ministerial in May, co-chaired by US and UK Energy Secretaries Steven Chu and Edward Davey. Together, they announced that the US and UK would be working together to capitalise on this endeavour.
Unlike turbines resting on towers offshore, floating turbines are able to be located in waters several hundred metres deep, increasing the areas of sea and ocean that can be harvested for wind while gaining greater access to faster winds. It would also remove the turbines from the sight of local communities that are not completely enthused about having to look at a wind farm on their scenic coast.
The UK's Energy Technology Institute is going to invest $41 million in the project. Selected participants can submit concepts of a floating wind turbine between five and seven megawatts capacity, and the winner will be expected to produce a working prototype by 2016. The US Department of Energy has put forth a $180 million funding opportunity for four offshore wind demonstration projects.