Monday, July 18, 2016

Offshore Wind Powers Ahead in Europe

Falling costs mean that power generated by offshore wind farms is becoming increasingly competitive with other fuels – and that’s good news for the climate.

The sun rises behind an offshore wind farm. (Image Credit: Aaron via Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
A building boom is underway offshore in Europe.  Up to 400 giant wind turbines are due to be built off the northeast coast of the UK in what will be the world’s largest offshore wind development.

Output from the Dogger Bank project will be 1.2 Gigawatts – enough to power more than a million homes.

Next year, a 150-turbine wind farm off the coast of the Netherlands is due to start operating, and other schemes along the Dutch coast are in the works.

Denmark, Sweden and Portugal are major investors in offshore wind, and China has ambitious plans for the sector.

Wind farms – both onshore and offshore – are seen as a key ingredient in renewable energy policy, and an important element in the battle against climate change.

Fossil fuel prices
WindEurope, an offshore wind industry group, says that at the present rate of installations it’s likely Europe will be producing about seven per cent of its electricity from offshore wind by 2030.

By some calculations, all this building work would seem to make little economic sense.  Fossil fuel prices are low on the world market, and constructing offshore wind farms several kilometers out at sea, in often treacherous conditions, has traditionally been an expensive business.

Despite this, the offshore wind industry insists it has a bright future:  costs are coming down, and supporters say the sector is becoming ever more competitive.

Ironically, the slump in the price of oil has been one factor driving down the price of offshore power.

Inactivity in the oil industry and the closure of many drilling projects in the North Sea and elsewhere has led to a big surplus of offshore installation vessels.  As a result, costs for transporting turbines out to sea and other support work have dropped substantially.

Costs have also dropped due to lower prices on the world market for steel, a major building component in offshore installations.

Building and technical techniques have been refined and standardized over the years. Maintenance expenditure – which can account for up to 40 per cent of the running cost of an offshore installation – has been reduced.  The industry now uses larger 6MW turbines, which it says need less servicing, and in future it’s likely a move will be made to 8MW models.

New methods have been adopted for laying foundations for pylons at sea.  The industry says that as projects have grown in size, economies of scale have been achieved.

The cost of cables connecting the wind pylons to power networks onshore has also been reduced.  Initially, cables were produced to operate at full capacity at all times, but new cables that are less bulky and less expensive are able to cope with the intermittent power produced.

Read more at Offshore Wind Powers Ahead in Europe

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