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World's largest wind farm: UK construction underway

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windfarm and solar panels

The first sod has been turned on a UK project to build the world’s largest offshore wind farm, helmed by none other than SSE. Selectra has the details for you.

Where is the world's largest wind farm being built?

The project will see three wind farms constructed in the Dogger Bank area of the North Sea, well-known to fishermen and fans of the Radio 4 Shipping Forecast.

The Dogger Bank Wind Farms site is located more than 130km east off the Yorkshire Coast.

The UK’s SSE Renewables and Norway’s Equinor, have a 50-year lease on the area from the Crown Estate for their joint venture.

The turbines will be erected in 20 to 35m of seawater, far from shore and complaining NIMBYs.

The total installed capacity of 3.6GW is expected to generate enough energy to power the equivalent of 4.5 million UK homes or cover around 5% of the UK’s estimated electricity generation.

Electricity from the project should start feeding the grid in 2023, but more installations are planned through the 2020s and around £9bn will be invested in Dogger Bank Wind Farms from 2020 to 2026.

The sites were chosen in the UK’s September 2019 Contracts for Difference (CfD) auctions, a government scheme for supporting renewable energy.

It encourages green power by protecting investors and developers involved in expensive long-term projects. Energy prices are volatile, so developers are guaranteed a rate for the electricity they produce for the first 15 years of operation.

How will it work?

The world’s most powerful offshore turbines, Haliade-Xs made by GE, will convert the North Sea breeze into power for the grid.

The electricity will be sent by cable to Ulrome, then to convertors in the south of Beverley and finally on to the National Grid substation in Cottingham. The onshore connections will involve 20 miles of new electrical cables.

net zero goals

Steve Wilson, Managing Director of Dogger Bank Wind Farms, said the development would play a “critical role” in the UK’s net-zero by 2050 plan.

“Getting the first spade in the ground is a significant milestone on any project, but for what will be the world’s largest offshore wind farm, this is a major moment for a project that has already been over a decade in the making,” he said.

The shallow location enjoys favourable wind speeds and the site has been eyed as prime wind farm real estate since 2008.

Is this a significant development for renewable energy?

Originally, Dogger Bank’s capacity was to be 9GW, but this was reduced a number of times over the last decade. The current 3.6GW goal is only 40% of the initial target.

Still, the addition is notable when compared to the UK’s current estimated off-shore capacity of about 10GW and shows off-shore wind infrastructure is gaining ground.

Work beginning on the Dogger Bank farm comes hot on the heels of EDF Renewable’s start on building an array off the East coast of Scotland.

The Neart na Gaoithe project has a planned capacity of around 450MW and could power up to 375,000 homes.

While the UK leads in offshore wind its total installed wind generating capacity, which includes onshore as well as offshore wind, is just 20.7GW. That’s well behind China, the US, Germany and Spain.

China for example, has a current total wind capacity of about 206GW.

Although energy prices for offshore wind power are dropping and are expected to be cheaper than gas-generated electricity by 2030, wind farms on land are still regarded to be the cheapest source of renewable energy.

Why is the UK concentrating on offshore wind power?

In 2015, the Conservatives gave in to concerns about wind turbines from the aforementioned NIMBY’s, people who might accept an idea as good in principle but protest “Not In My Back Yard” if such good ideas might be put into practice in their approximate vicinity.

Complaints included turbines spoiling their views (read property prices), endangering bird life (a minor risk compared to fossil fuel plants) and causing noise pollution (wind turbines are built away from homes and should sound no louder than a fridge or, at high speeds, an air conditioner).

To win them over, the government dropped subsidy support for onshore wind farms, excluded them from the CfD scheme and introduced planning restrictions to discourage new constructions.

The decision meant the number of new onshore wind installations plummeted. In 2018, almost 80% fewer wind farms were built than in 2017 when 2.7GW of new capacity had been added. Within a year that had fallen to just 598MW.

So, while China zooms towards 400GW of wind capacity by 2030, the UK crawls towards the 40GW pledged in the 2019 Conservative party manifesto.

As the climate emergency worsens, environmental campaigners, green energy investors, a sizable number of Tory MPs and even conservative voters have called for restrictions on onshore wind energy to be lifted.

A 2019 poll found that 74% of people who voted Conservative in the 2017 election now support onshore wind energy, twice the number who support fracking.

Whether Boris Johnson’s term will see Westminster heed the increasing pressure and choose to support the cheapest form of green energy remains to be seen.

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