UK Gears Up To Go Deep On Offshore Wind

The U. K. has installed oodles of offshore wind power – capacity grew by 79 percent, to a world-leading 3,321 megawatts, from July 2012 to June 2013, according to a new report – and it has plans to install a whole lot more.

The nation’s grand offshore plan is unfolding in a series of rounds. Round 1 consisted of 12 projects totaling around 1.1 gigawatts. Round 2, now in progress, is to add 17 projects with a total generating capacity of 7.2 GW. Then comes Round 3 and a whopping 33 GW.

offshore wind power

image via National Renewable Energy Centre

Here’s the thing, though: This is all based on the idea that the cost of the power, now around twice that off onshore wind, will be trimmed to £100 per megawatt hour by 2020 when all this capacity is in place, a reduction of around 30 percent.

To help make this happen, the government is backing and has now given full approval for construction of the UK’s largest offshore wind demonstration site.  Located of the coast of Blyth in Northumberland, it’ll consist of 15 turbines at depths of 35, 45 and 55 meters, adding up to 99.9 MW of grid-connected power capacity.

It’s the depth of these turbines that’s of particular importance; right now, nearly all offshore wind turbines are in waters no more than 30 meters deep. Developers know they can access a lot more good wind – making the turbines more efficient – in deeper waters, but substructures become more expensive – and difficult to engineer – as water depth increases.

Floating wind turbines are one way to deal with this predicament, and the U.K., like the U.S., is poking into that as a possibility. But it won’t be a realistic, so to make the sites pegged for Round 3 a reality, advances in working in that deep water will be necessary. That’s where this demo site comes into play.

From the National Renewable Energy Centre, which will build the site: “The £350 million demonstration site will be the final piece in the jigsaw as part of its strategy to provide a complete suite of independent open access test facilities, enabling manufacturers to reduce the risks and costs associated with developing the new technologies that will be needed in Round 3 projects.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.