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UK potential for wind, wave and tidal in focus

Adam Westwood, David Hopwood

Major political developments in the UK could have a significant impact on the success of future project development of wind, wave and tidal energy in the country; the Crown Estate has released details of the Round 3 scheme, and parliament turned its attention to planning…

Offshore wind – UK projects on the move?

The big news in this month's column comes from the UK, with the Round 3 leasing programme being launched on 4 June 2008. The Crown Estate will in due course invite potential partners to bid for development zones. These zones have been identified through both spatial planning by The Crown Estate, and the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) being undertaken by The Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform (BERR). The successful bidders will have exclusive rights to develop windfarms in specified zones.

11 such zones have been identified off the UK coastline that will have a total targeted energy capacity of 25 GW. Each zone could have multiple wind farms. Speaking at the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) Offshore 08 conference in Westminster, London, Rob Hastings, director of the marine estate for The Crown Estate revealed that significant zones for the 25 GW of wind farms will be tendered out to developers through the summer of next year. This will halve the expected time taken for the initial development stages, with the first phases of the new Round 3 wind farms likely to start operating in 2015.

Maria McCaffery MBE, BWEA CEO said, “this is fantastic news for the UK wind industry, with Britain's seas now officially opened for business. This announcement has brought delivery of the 2020 renewable energy targets a great deal closer”.

The Crown Estate is also planning to co-invest up to 50% of the cost of obtaining planning consents for wind farm sites, including the funding of enabling works intended to speed up wind farm delivery. This may include action to address generic, zone-wide environmental concerns, consenting bottlenecks, supply chain constraints and options for connecting new wind farms to the national grid.

The selected partners will remain wholly responsible for construction and operation of wind farm sites. The Crown Estate is not intending to take any role in the eventual ownership or operation of offshore wind farms resulting from this programme, other than to provide leases of the seabed to operators.

And in May, the Crown Estate called for a registration of interesting offshore wind development within Scottish territorial waters. The call is for projects of 100 MW or greater. Registered companies will then be invited to submit project proposals for consideration, and will be given three months to prepare and submit them. Because the Scottish Government has no specific programme for offshore wind, the applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

The launch of Round 3 comes shortly after Shell's decision to withdraw from the Round 2 project, the London Array wind farm. Shell's exit is widely perceived to be due to rising costs and planning issues on the project. With no major contracts placed on the wind project and the two remaining partners looking for a new party to join them to continue development, the project faces an uncertain future.

While it may be too late to appease Shell, at the time of going to press, the UK Parliament was set to vote on the introduction of a fast track planning process for major infrastructure projects, a measure promised in the Government's Energy (and Planning) White Papers of 2007. According to the BWEA, it currently takes on average 8-9 years to move from identifying an offshore wind site, to the wind farm becoming operational. In some instances offshore wind farms have been stuck in planning for five years.

Grid power lines have also suffered from heavy delays, the Beauly-Denny line – which would connect wind rich areas in the North of Scotland to the National Grid – has been in the planning system since 2005. The Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) proposed by the Planning Bill would take over decision making on offshore wind farms over 100 MW in size and for power cables over 132 kV. Under the IPC arrangements, proponents say that planning applications would be fast-tracked through in under a year. Cross party support for an IPC could potentially be extremely positive for the offshore wind industry in the UK.

Whilst London Array is in difficulty, the 504 MW Greater Gabbard wind project is progressing well, and will be the first of the UK's Round 2 wind projects to enter construction. Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) have made the decision to proceed with the project at a cost of £1.3 billion (excluding grid connection). SSE is targeting 2010 for initial first-phase wind power production, with completion in 2011. SSE has also bought out previous partner Flour's stake of the project for £40 million, but is now seeking a new 50% equity partner. The project has an order for 140 Siemens, 3.6 MW wind  turbines, in a contract believed to be of the order of €800m. The turbines will be installed on monopile foundations in water depths up to 34 metres. Export cabling is by three 132 kV cables.

Offshore going Dutch

Wind farm development off the Netherlands coast is growing in potential, with more applications coming forward in the second round of development. Just 450 MW is available for allocation by 2010, but there is a far greater amount of capacity in planning from 70 proposed projects. The procedures for approving the proposed projects are expected to be announced in July. The most recent projects to be submitted are from RWE, which has submitted applications for almost 1.5 GW of wind capacity. Its two major projects are the 990 MW Tromp, and 514 MW Ruyter wind projects, off Ljmuiden and Groningen respectively.

Construction has begun on Horns Rev 2 wind farm off Denmark's coast with A2Sea installing the first of the monopile foundations. Foundation installation will continue up to September. Wind turbine installation and commissioning will take place in 2009.

Husum set to focus on offshore wind

2008 and 2009 are expected to be boom years in the offshore wind sector in Europe – with planned commissioning of a total of 1507.5 MW on new installations coming online. The UK alone is likely to account for about 800 MW of this. Another milestone in offshore wind energy production will be the commercial launch of a number of wind turbines of the 5 MW class. The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) predicts that, by the end of 2010, a cumulative offshore wind capacity of between 3000 and 4000 MW will be operational off the coasts of Europe. With this in mind, the offshore wind sector will be a central theme at the upcoming HUSUM WindEnergy 2008, taking place in Husum, Germany, 9-13 September 2008.

The growth plans are promising – a European offshore wind goal of 40,000 MW by the year 2020 was announced at the European Offshore Wind Conference 2007 in Berlin. The UK alone is aiming for 33,000 MW by 2020, and Germany 25,000 MW offshore wind by 2030 – sufficient to cover 15% of its energy demand. Other more moderate targets have been announced by the Netherlands (6000 MW by 2020) and Sweden (2500 to 3000 MW by 2015). However, there could be bottlenecks due to the scarcity of offshore wind turbines and the restricted number of suppliers.

Outside Europe, countries like the USA and China have announced plans to exploit their offshore wind potential. According to a study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the offshore wind energy potential of the USA is more than 1 TW. By comparison, some 1.1 GW offshore wind capacity was installed in Europe by the end of 2007, with Denmark and the UK the two main markets. Supply of offshore wind turbines is currently dominated by Vestas (with a market share of about 60%) and Siemens. At the beginning of 2007, Vestas had to withdraw the V90, 3 MW wind turbine from the market for technical reasons, but has released the wind turbine for sale again from May 2008 onwards. At the beginning of March, the Dutch developer Evelop selected Vestas to supply 110 V90 wind turbines for its Belgian 330 MW offshore wind project Belwind.

Wave and Tidal

As we covered in last month's column, leading tidal energy company Marine Current Turbines has now completed the installation of its 1.2 MW SeaGen tidal device in Strangford Narrows in Northern Ireland. Commissioning is now underway on the device. Installation was previously being hampered due to difficulties securing an installation vessel.

Difficulties still hamper the installation of Pelamis Wave Power's Agucadoura wave farm off Portugal. The problem relates to buoyancy foam on the mooring and connection system, and replacing it requires a weather window, which has so far proved unattainable. Once replaced, installation and final commissioning of this important wave project is expected quickly.

In other wave and tidal development news:

A UK developed vertical axis tidal turbine has successfully completed the current phase of its evaluation trials, say its development engineers. The Osprey tidal turbine is the brainchild of Cornwall-based FreeFlow 69 Ltd. Following initial testing of a reduced-scale model in 2007, a full size prototype has recently been trialled with “significant success”. A purpose-designed 30 ft long aluminium catamaran rig was designed and built by associate company, Able Engineering Ltd of Swadlincote, Derbyshire, for use in these tidal trials. The company says the Ospreytidal device  can provide power independently or as part of a larger system, with outputs from 1 kW up to 5 MW in a multiple system anticipated.

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Wave and tidal energy  •  Wind power