Love them or loathe them, wind power is growing as an energy source for us here in the UK. Wind Turbines (those tall white things that look like modern windmills) currently generate about 12% of our electricity and is set to grow to 20% by 2020. Currently over half of that is generated by on shore wind farms, but more investment is now heading towards building large off shore wind farms, and this should see off-shore wind contribute much more to that capacity.
The latest innovative concept to take shape is the world’s first floating wind farm, off the east coast of Scotland. The Hywind £200m project initially seems far-fetched, but the pioneering technology could open up a whole new development in renewable energy.
So how big is this industry?
Well, the world’s largest off shore windfarm is being built off the Yorkshire coast. Hornsea 2 is being built after nearby Hornsea 1, and this multimillion-pound project will see 300 turbines, each taller than the Gherkin, span more than 480 sq km in the North Sea. It is expected to deliver 1800 MW of energy, enough to power 1.8m UK homes. Dong Energy, a Copenhagen-based company responsible for many off shore wind farms, and working on this project, recently floated for £10B on its recent stock flotation. And the world’s largest wind turbines have just gone live off Liverpool.
So this technology is important. Wind energy as part of the renewable energy industry (this includes the likes of wind, solar, biomass and marine sources, like the proposed Swansea Tidal Lagoon) provided about 26% of the UK’s electrical needs in 2015, and is set to grow to 30% by 2020. While there can be criticism of their looks, and where they are placed, the biggest barriers are the cost of developing them and the cost of the power they generate.
A recent Mckinsey report suggests that these barriers are being eroded….
For many years, 3- to 4-megawatt turbines were standard; now 8- to 10-megawatt models are common, and by 2024, 13- to 15-megawatt models will likely hit the market. This reduces the cost per megawatt. Even as turbines have become larger, they have also become better. In the 1990s, the expected lifetime of offshore wind parks was only 15 years; now it is closer to 25 years, and new sites project an operational lifetime of 30 years.