World's deepest offshore wind farm almost up and running

八月 4, 2006

Brussels, 03 Aug 2006

Wind energy is believed to be one of the most mature renewable technologies, offering an alternative to unsustainable oil and gas. Although the technology for wind farms is available and in use, it faces one major problem - the accusation that wind turbines constitute an eyesore.

Scientists have come up with a solution to this objection - constructing the wind farm in out-of-sight locations. Assessments of wind conditions in Europe have shown that Scotland has by far the most favourable environment for wind energy, so where better to test the feasibility of an offshore wind farm in deep water than 25 kilometres off the Scottish coast in the Moray Firth?

A team from around Europe is doing just this. Work is currently underway to have this demonstrator wind farm generating electricity by the end of September.

DOWNViND is an EU project funded under the 'Sustainable development, global change and ecosystems' priority of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), and coordinated by Talisman Energy UK. The EU funding of €6 million will go towards the demonstration project - the installation of two turbines - but will also fund research on the economic, social and environmental impacts of deep sea wind farms.

Additional funding for the project has been secured from the UK government's Department of Trade and Industry and the Scottish Executive (€4.4 million each), while Talisman and Scottish and Southern Energy are contributing more than €10.3 million each to the demonstrator element of DOWNViND.

According to DOWNViND coordinator Alan MacAskill, from Talisman, 'everybody will have to move to deepwater anyway', and this feasibility test is therefore vital. Closer to land there are more interest groups, concerned about fishing, marine traffic and aesthetics. 'The pressure on the use of the sea is less further out,' he told CORDIS News.

Installing and maintaining two turbines in water 50 metres deep does however present specific challenges. Mr MacAskill explained that the DOWNViND team is using a completely different model for the installation to that used for onshore farms. Instead of using a jack-up, the team has hired floating vessels, from which two jacket structures, 500 metres apart, have already been lowered onto the sea bed. The jackets are each secured by four piles.

The tower, turbine, and the top half of a soft landing device are assembled onshore and transported to site using a floating crane. The floating crane then lifts the tower and turbine and lowers it on to the substructure. The soft landing device is then removed.

The hub of the turbines will be 88 metres above sea level, and the blades are 63 metres long. Each structure weighs 1,000 tonnes.

Weather-permitting, the first turbine will be installed in the week beginning 7 August, and the team then needs four to five days to go back to shore and assemble the parts for the second turbine. Once both are installed, they need to be commissioned, which should take around three weeks.

The turbines will be located close to the Beatrice Alpha oil platform, and should be able to meet between one-quarter and one-third of the platform's daily energy need of 12 to 15 megawatts. This is roughly the equivalent to the energy needs of a small town, says Mr MacAskill. Currently the platform buys power from the national grid.

The DOWNViND project has 17 partners, the majority from industry. Mr MacAskill says that as many as 70 companies are involved when component suppliers are taken into account. The large industry component is due to the fact that this is predominantly a demonstration project rather than a research project, says Mr MacAskill. 'It needs skills and input from industry,' he says.

If the demonstrator is successful, it will also be very interesting from a commercial viewpoint, which would also explain industry's involvement in the project. If found to be feasible, the two turbines could be incorporated into a commercial development. Both Talisman and Scottish and Southern Energy are investing a great deal in the project, but Mr MacAskill is quick to point out that it is also them shouldering the risk.

Academia is involved however, and is contributing in particular to research on the environmental and social impacts of wind farms. Working with the public sector has presented some difficulties for the industry partners, but nothing that could not be overcome, according to the project coordinator. 'There have been some hiccups. It is very awkward for a group of companies to work with the public sector and there have been some frustrations. But overall we will do what we promised, and deliver a working demonstrator by the end of the summer,' he says.

In addition to what is required in the project contract in terms of environmental impact studies, Talisman has also funded a bird radar system that has been positioned on Beatrice Alpha. The radar is able to monitor every bird that flies past, and an imminent upgrade will enable it to record the height of each bird as well.

An initial stakeholder consultation identified the following potential impacts for the project:

  • underwater noise from piling could disturb marine mammals and fish;

  • noise from the turbines will be transmitted into the water column and could disturb marine mammals;

  • the presence of the turbines could affect movements and feeding of birds;

  • electromagnetic fields around the cable linking the turbines to the Beatrice Alpha platform could affect some species of fish, such as sharks and rays;

  • the presence of two new structures could interfere with commercial fishing operations and shipping.

The University of Aberdeen and the Swedish Universities of Stockholm and Lund are investigating each of these potential impacts.

Asked whether deep sea wind farms are a viable alternative to oil, Mr MacAskill was reluctant to say that they could replace oil, but emphasised that oil is a finite commodity, and that it is 'only sensible to have an alternative source of energy'.

When the demonstration project ends in September 2009, we will have more of an idea of how viable this particular alternative is.

For now, the focus is on getting the turbines up and running. So far all has gone to plan, although bad weather has delayed slightly the lowering into place of the first turbine. 'The only thing that can stop us now is the weather,' says Mr MacAskill.

Further information, including an animation video of the demonstrator project:

CORDIS RTD-NEWS/© European Communities, 2006
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