Four sites selected for prototype offshore windfarm tests

Four new seabed sites have been leased by The Crown Estate for testing new wind turbine technology off the coast of the UK., which has responsibility for 55% of the UK’s foreshore and all seabed out to the 12 nautical miles limit, has awarded four companies with leases and exclusivity agreements in England and Scotland respectively to test new wind turbine technology in the marine environment.

Controlling costs and advancing the state of the art are recognised as essential in maintaining the momentum of offshore windfarm development. Technical innovation is considered to go hand in hand with cutting costs and the awarding of the demonstration sites enabling the companies to take their proposals through the planning and consenting phases is intended to allow such innovation to be put to the test.

The move is aimed at helping the UK offshore wind industry with its requirement to demonstrate progress with new turbine and other technologies, particularly with the recent announcement of Round 3 licenses for windfarms in much deeper waters and further offshore than the current Round 1 and 2 projects.

Two windfarm sites in England have been awarded agreement for leases. DONG Energy Gunfleet Sands Demo (UK) Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of DONG Energy, will be able to test up to two next generation offshore wind turbines at its Gunfleet Sands offshore windfarm off the Essex coast, where a total of 48 turbines are now in full production with a total capacity of 172MW.

The testing of up to 20 wind turbines and associated infrastructure will be permitted at the Blyth Offshore Wind Demonstration site off the Northumberland coast. The operator, National Renewable Energy Centre (NAREC), reports that a number of high profile manufacturers have made enquiries for the limited spaces and earlier this year they were awarded an £18.5m grant for infrastructure work including establishing an electrical grid connection for up to 100MW. Their proposals include up to four wind turbine arrays up to 14km offshore in water depths ranging from 15m to 55m.

The two exclusivity agreements for Scotland are aimed at allowing initial survey and consultation processes to begin while the Scottish Government conducts a Strategic Environment Assessment for windfarms in Scottish territorial waters.

Based in The Netherlands, 2-B Energy BV plans to demonstrate two of their turbines at Methil Offshore Wind Farm. The second exclusivity agreement has been awarded to the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre – Aberdeen Offshore Wind Ltd, a company 75% owned by Vattenfall AB and 25% by Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group (AREG). The group plans to test and demonstrate up to 11 next generation turbines and other technology in Aberdeen Bay.

Aberdeen Central MSP Lewis Macdonald recently visited a Swedish offshore windfarm. After pointing out that there is an offer on the table from the European Commission to provide €40m in funding for an Aberdeen Bay windfarm test centre similar to the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney for wave and tidal power, he said, ‘Aberdeen has led the European offshore oil industry for the last forty years. Now there is a very good chance to do the same in the offshore wind industry. Aberdeen Renewable Energy group has taken a lead, and I hope others will follow. If we want Aberdeen to be truly the energy capital of Europe in the next 40 years, the whole city and region need to get behind Aberdeen Bay, and I will press Scottish Ministers for an early decision once an application goes in.’

By Peter Barker