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News from the UK & Overseas Power Industry July 2019

Posted by: James Turner
Industry News

Wind farm islands set to power UK, Germany & Scandinavia

A desolate stretch of the North Sea is being eyed-up for a giant new power hub that would transfer electricity to the UK, Germany, Denmark and Norway.

Dogger Bank is a windy and shallow stretch of sea 125km off the East Yorkshire where three artificial islands could be built by TenneT, the Port of Rotterdam, Energinet and Gasunie.

It’s not the first project to propose far-offshore wind turbines. Hornsea One, located 89km off the Yorkshire Coast, has 100 of its 174 turbines spinning and will be the largest in the world once it is fully operational in 2022. It will supply electricity to well over a million households in the UK.

In a proposal by TenneT, the North Sea Wind Power Hub will have a 15GW capacity, enough to supply more than 12 million homes in the UK. 

The report states: “Current policies, market design and regulatory framework should be urgently reconsidered to enable the successful development of multiple Hub-and-Spoke projects towards 2050.” 

This could be a huge boost to the UK’s carbon targets, but could also solve other problems. Wind farms built close to shore can interfere with shipping lanes and fishing grounds, and can be affected by strong tides or unsuitable seabed. The visual impact is also of concern to some people.

As a rule, the further offshore, the steadier and stronger the winds. Moving from the current sites where UK wind farms are to the middle of Dogger Bank could see a 10% increase in capacity factors.

Building far out at sea is a big venture. The running costs of the artificial islands wouldn’t necessarily be more expensive as they would be similar to operating an offshore oil rig with a permanent base. But it only really makes sense for constructions with a capacity of more than 10GW because of the large cost associated with manufacturing the islands and, in particular, the high-voltage direct current cables needed to get the power back to shore.

Undersea cables need to avoid areas where ships may anchor, where trawlers operate or where there are strong currents. The cables then need to come ashore where they won’t disrupt a port, existing businesses, housing areas or a popular beach and where there is room to install a high-voltage substation and a line of pylons to connect it to the nearest switchyard of the national grid.

The connection between neighbouring markets will make the business case for any such mega-project as the North Sea Wind Power Hub, says Iain Staffell, a lecturer in sustainable energy at Imperial College London. 

“One of the biggest benefits of having this offshore hub instead of connecting a couple of wind farms to the UK, a couple to Germany, a couple to Denmark, is connecting them all to those artificial islands,” he said. 

Power can then be transferred between the countries. On 26 May 2019, UK prices for electricity turned negative for nine consecutive hours due to low demand, forcing on- and offshore wind farms to temporarily shut down. If UK wind farms were connected to other European countries through the proposed island hubs, the country could sell its excess power.

Ørsted says it welcomes the ambitious development proposals for the North Sea but stresses the need to focus on immediate solutions. “Bold ambitions and new solutions are needed, but we also think it is critical to act in the short-term,” says Ulrik Stridbæk, the company’s head of energy economics. “The first natural step, in our view, is to develop hybrid solutions, where offshore wind farms are connected to two or more countries.” 

Those wind farms would be linked through undersea interconnectors. This will soon be the case between the UK and Norway.

If given the green light, a project as large as the North Sea Wind Power Hub would involve multiple companies from multiple countries. Governments will need to give companies the certainty that there won’t be any roadblocks such as legal challenges around using the seabed, or ramifications if one country decided to pull out. Full story.

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