Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The $1bn contract to connect North Sea windfarms

BorWin Alpha wind farm in the North Sea
What is possibly the world's largest ever order - at $1bn - for grid connection technology for offshore wind farms has been signed, an indicator of the coming huge expansion in wind capacity in Europe.

Dutch-German transmission grid operator TenneT has commissioned ABB, a power and automation technology group, to supply a power link connecting offshore North Sea wind farms to the German mainland grid.

The initiative will form part of Germany's plans to meet its carbon reduction targets while phasing out its nuclear power plants.

When completed, it will be the world’s largest offshore HVDC (high-voltage direct current) system - rated at over 900 megawatts (MW) - and will be capable of supplying over 1.5 million households with wind-generated electricity.

It will utilise ABB's HVDC (high voltage direct current) Light technology. This means that by transmitting the power at high voltage in direct current (DC), rather than alternating current (AC), electrical losses over distance can be kept to below 1% per converter station.

The technology is well proven and ten years old - ABB has previously used it to connect the BorWin1 windfarm and last year won a contract to connect the 800MW Dolwin1 windfarm, both also in the North Sea.
Map of DolWin windfarm in the North Sea
The cables can transmit power underground and underwater over long distances with the other advantages of having neutral electromagnetic fields, oil-free cables and compact converter stations.

The company claims that it is economically feasible to expand transmission capacity using this system, to minimise the visual and environmental impact of the grid and improve the quality of the power supply.

The expense and visual intrusion of overland grid-connection cables has become a focus for opposition to the expansion of wind power in the UK , particularly in Scotland.

The planned connector will link the 400 MW Gode Wind II and other wind farms in the North Sea, sending DC electricity at 320 kilovolts to a converter station at Dörpen on the German coast, via another station offshore, along 135 kilometers of underwater and underground cables. It will then feed AC electricity into the mainland grid.

It should be completed by 2015, so that by 2020 Germany will have more than doubled its offshore wind electricity generation, from its present 8% of total supply (a capacity of over 27 gigawatts).

Britain and Germany are both competitors and partners in the race to establish windfarms in the North Sea. Wind energy is expected to more than triple its power output by 2020 in the EU.

Energy and Climate Change Minister Chris Huhne, on a visit yesterday to the Vestas wind turbine facility in the Isle of Wight, spoke enthusiastically of the UK leading the world in the area, with some 1.5GW of wind capacity installed.

"Last week’s new European Wind Energy Association numbers found almost all turbines installed in the first half of this year were in the UK: 101 off the UK, compared to just 7 in the rest of Europe," he said.

Justin Wilkes, Policy Director of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), believes that 194 billion Euros will be invested in European onshore and offshore wind farms in this decade. "This success is mainly driven by a strong EU regulatory framework to 2020, which we need also after 2020," he said, as he launched a new EWEA report on scenarios for onshore and offshore wind power deployment in the EU.

This says that electricity production from wind power is expected to increase from 182 Terawatt hours (TWh) or 5.5% of the total EU demand in 2010, to 581 TWh or 15.7% of the total demand in 2020. At this point it will be equivalent to the combined electricity consumption of all households in France, Germany, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Chris Huhne would like to see many more of the turbines that are erected around the UK being built in this country, which was a motivation for his visit to the Vestas facility in Newport on the Isle of Wight. This was a turbine-making factory that Vestas closed two years ago despite attempts by the government to dissuade its Danish owner.

Huhne said that he believes "Vestas are one of a number of companies who have announced intentions to open turbine manufacturing plants in the UK. I very much hope to see that intention become reality.”

Despite not making wind turbines, the factory still employs 220 people. It is testimony to efforts by islanders to attain its council's goal of being carbon neutral by 2020.

Huhne saw how the facility now designs and tests wind turbine blades. “Innovative new components, including those likely to be tested and developed here in these very facilities, will play a crucial role in bringing [future wind power] costs down," Huhne said. "As will new, high yield, multi-megawatt turbines of the type Vestas have recently announced."

Council representatives and members of the Eco Island community group then discussed with Chris Huhne proposals to create an ocean energy centre to test tidal and wave technology off the west and south coasts of the island.

No comments: