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What Does The Future Hold For Wind Energy?

Posted: 02/12/2018

2018 has seen the wind energy sector grow and evolve significantly. New and larger turbines, including ones that float rather than being anchored to the seabed, have been constructed and the cost of generating power from offshore wind has reduced significantly.

With more and more offshore wind farms being developed and the release of further real estate around the UK and elsewhere in Europe, it seems that the sector will continue to grow.

In fact, a report by Global Market Insights named the UK North Sea and Germany as world leaders in the field of offshore wind power. Energy Voice shared the findings, noting that two-thirds of the world’s offshore wind capacity has been installed off the coast of the UK and Germany.

It’s big business. Globally, the offshore wind sector is projected to be worth £53 billion by 2024. The UK currently has a £7.1 billion share of the market.

That’s great news for those keen to see the UK move further away from its reliance on fossil fuels, but it also presents challenges, particularly when it comes to on-going servicing, maintenance and ensuring the safety of all who work on these offshore wind farms.

As early adopters of the technology, the UK has an opportunity to lead the way as other nations, such as China and the US, begin to catch up. Businesses operating in the North Sea could find their knowledge of emergency preparedness and response and offshore medical response to incidents in this challenging environment is invaluable to other organisations branching into the sector.

Research Manager for Energy and Power at Global Market Insights Ankit Gupta told Energy Voice that wind energy is considered to be one of the “mature energy sources”.

He added that the Global Wind Energy Council stated in 2016 that wind would lead the unconventional energy system. “Subject to the fact, offshore wind industry has been gaining momentum, as to contribute majorly in achieving renewable energy targets across the globe,” he concluded.


Turbines are getting bigger

Back in March 2018, General Electric (GE) unveiled its Halidade-X turbine, which was described as the most powerful offshore wind turbine in the world. The model is considerably larger than traditional turbines, and has the ability to produce 45 per cent more energy than the next-largest turbine in use.

This is a sign of the way the industry is progressing, with many front-runners in the sector looking at how to make larger turbines economically viable, as well as safe, in an offshore environment.

GE is intending to deploy its first Halidade-X turbine by 2021, with the company revealing it intends to invest £400 million in its development and deployment. When completed, the turbine will stand almost as tall as the Eiffel Tower or Chrysler Building. The rotor blades themselves are vast, with the surface of the blade sweep the equivalent of seven American football fields.


Wind farms are expanding

As well as the turbines themselves getting larger, the size of the wind farms are also increasing.

Scottish Power Renewables recently announced a milestone development at its East Anglia ONE wind farm. A substation, which will transmit the power generated by the 102 turbines in the wind farm back to shore, was successfully installed. It’s the largest structure of its kind in the world, and it will house all the electrical equipment needed to distribute the energy generated by the turbines back to the UK mainland.

Now that this is in place, electricians are working around the clock to ensure it is ready for operations to begin later this year. Work is starting to install the turbines and their blades now that the substation is in position, the firm explained.

East Anglia ONE Project Director for Scottish Power Renewables Charlie Jordan commented: “The offshore substation is the single largest and most complex piece of kit that we build for this project, so it is good to see the structure safely in place.”

The development of floating wind turbines has also enabled wind farms to be created in locations that were previously inaccessible to the technology. At the end of 2017, the world’s first floating wind farm - Hywind - became operational off the coast of Scotland, for instance.


Research and development is continuing

With the UK government including the offshore wind sector in its Industrial Strategy, there has been an even greater push to invest in developing new technology to drive the sector forwards.

During 2018, Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult invited two of the UK’s leading universities to join its Electrical Infrastructure Research Hub. The universities of Strathclyde and Manchester will be joining other experts to explore how to future-proof the nation’s electrical infrastructure systems, while meeting the needs of offshore wind and tidal energy projects.

This particular research hub plans to investigate areas such as component reliability and availability, system and sub-system optimisation, and smart energy systems of the future, which includes energy storage.

Keith Bell, Professor of Smart Grids at the University of Strathclyde, commented: “The very particular and hostile environment offshore means we can’t just assume that established technologies and network designs will suffice. There is a great need for innovation.”

Head of Strategic Research at ORE Catapult Paul McKeever pointed out that plans for 30GW of installed capacity across the offshore wind and tidal energy sectors by 2030 are ambitious and in order to be successful research is needed to explore the best ways of converting, transmitting and storing energy.

It’s not only research collaborations between organisations in the UK that are gaining attention though. ORE Catapult recently announced a partnership with Chinese organisation Tus-Wind, which will support the adoption of wind power in China.

A three-year, £2 million investment in the new research centre was unveiled at the end of August. The aim of the research centre is to develop an innovative offshore wind farm with a capacity of at least 300MW, which will have a minimum of ten per cent UK content.

ORE Catapult pointed out that this is an important stepping stone to provide UK wind specialists with access to the Chinese wind energy market, which is expected to be worth £15 billion by 2030.

Business Secretary Greg Clark commented: “This exciting international collaboration shows how UK companies, backed by government, are exporting products and expertise worth tens of millions of pounds around the world.”

As well as sharing technological expertise, there is an opportunity to embed best practice in safety and incident response procedures into such projects as well.


Where next for turbines?

At some point turbines will reach their optimum size, but there are other innovations appearing in the field of wind energy, both on and offshore. One of the most interesting is the design of a multi-directional wind turbine that’s intended for use on buildings in cities.

The O-Wind Turbine, which was designed by Nicolas Orellana and Yaseen Noorani, won the James Dyson Award this year. Unlike offshore turbines, which are vast in size, the O-Wind Turbines are much smaller and use a geometric shape to allow them to spin regardless of the wind direction.

In cities, where wind direction can change suddenly, going up and down as well as along, conventional wind turbines are useless. Mr Orellana said that the hope is for these small, three-dimensional turbines to “improve the usability and affordability of turbines for people across the world”.

He added: “Cities are windy places but we are currently not harnessing this resource.” With so many resources being dedicated to harnessing renewable energy sources, and particularly wind, it’s likely that both the offshore and onshore wind sectors will continue to see innovations in the coming months and years.