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Comment: Could the Isle of Man gain from recent innovations in offshore wind?


Ken Milne

Ken Milne, Director of Energy & Support Services at the Isle of Man Department of Economic Development, discusses some of the developments occurring for the Isle of Man’s energy sector.

The last decade has seen rapid technological advancements in the renewable energy sector. Government subsidies in Europe and the UK, along with a need to find cleaner energy sources has created an economic environment ripe for innovation, where investing in green energy solutions is not just the right thing to do, but the profitable thing to do. 

The results of this innovation have been clear, with frequent announcements of ever more ambitious renewable schemes. From its position in the Irish Sea, the Isle of Man is fast becoming a hub for many renewable projects, with wind energy generation opportunities at the core of its offering. 

Recent innovations: New technology

In recent years three major trends have been established in the development and engineering of offshore wind sites. 

1.   Larger turbines – with increased surface area comes increased efficacy and more power can be derived from a single turbine.

Large engineering and power companies are leading the way in the research and development of new turbine technology. Siemens has increased the size of its 6MW turbine to 7MW, with 10% greater power output, achieved by increasing the size of their rotor blades to 75 metres. 

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Vestas joined forces in 2015 to produce the MHI Vestas 8MW turbine. Even larger than the Siemens offering, the result of this co-operation is a turbine with 80 metre rotor blades and a swept area larger than the London Eye. These turbines are capable of producing an impressive 8MW of power. 

2.   More efficient turbines – engineers and designers have been gradually learning the lessons from established sites and designs to refine the rotor blades and the turbines’ internal mechanisms in order to convert as much energy as possible, reducing the time it takes for a turbine to offset the energy consumed during its production.

Electronic controls on turbines are now designed to handle additional thrust from gusts of wind. Gearboxes such as the GE Haliade 6MW turbine use direct drive technology and have been developed to ensure maximum reliability which allows power to be generated even at low wind speeds. Areva and Gamesa have recently joined forces and plan to produce the new Adwen 8MW turbines from 2018 which promises use of innovative entrainment technology. All these changes have resulted in capacity factors of greater than 50% for new offshore wind turbines. 

3.   Installation of offshore sites at ever increasing depths - with many obvious shallow water sites already developed, improvements in survey, siting technology, durability of the turbines themselves and experience of the teams installing the turbines, previously unsuitable sites now have the potential for large scale power generation.

As offshore wind farms are developed further from shore, new technical and economic challenges need to be met for both erecting and siting the turbines. While shallow water sited turbines are generally installed directly into the sea bed, the challenge of positioning arrays further offshore and in deep water has heralded a variety of innovative solutions. 

Statoil Hywind was the first to trial a full scale 2.3 MW floating wind turbine in Norway in 2009 at 200m water depth and was supported by anchor technology supplied by Isle of Man based company, VRYHOF Engineering. Statoil now plans to build the first floating wind farm off the Scottish coast. The 30 MW pilot projects will consist of five, 6 MW floating turbines operating in waters exceeding 100m of depth.  The Pilot Park objective is to demonstrate cost efficient and low risk solutions for commercial scale parks. 

Perfectly positioned for the next steps in wind energy

The Isle of Man is situated in the middle of the Irish Sea between England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.  The Island’s Government owns 4,000 km2 of seabed, up to 12 miles from the shore. As such, it has consenting responsibility in this area for all developments, including offshore wind projects.   

The Isle Man’s geography makes it an ideal location for wind energy projects. The Island is just a short distance north west of both the Walney extension and Burbo Bank, both locations that will see installations with the Siemens and Mitsubishi Vestas improved turbines. The Island sits adjacent to an area of the UK with a proven viability for wind power generation.  Not only this, the Isle of Man also has a long association with innovation, engineering and green energy. Indeed in 1960 the Island was a trial site for predecessors of the modern wind turbine. 

It is hardly surprising then that companies on the Isle of Man have been at the forefront of design of mooring systems for floating wind turbines. These include mooring specialists VRYHOF Engineering and Bruce Anchor that have provided anchors used in floating offshore wind projects in Norway, Portugal, USA and Japan.

The creation of an offshore energy hub is one of the core strategies of the Government’s long-term plans for economic growth. Leasing parts of the Isle of Man’s seabed for renewable energy generation is expected to make a significant contribution to public funds and local job creation, as well as lowering carbon emissions. The continued success of companies such as Bruce Anchor, Seafox, Saderet, VRYHOF Engineering and V.Ships demonstrates the economic benefits for companies looking to invest in renewable energy on the Island.  

Proving their commitment to pursuing renewable energy solutions in their territorial waters, the Isle of Man Government signed an Agreement to lease an area of seabed to DONG Energy to progress a potential 700 MW offshore wind farm 6-12 miles from the Island’s shoreline in November 2015. This Isle of Man project could see further deployment of the larger, more efficient turbines. Additional renewable energy projects are also under investigation utilising the Island’s substantial tidal stream. 

Into the future

The industry is at a pivotal moment in the development of renewable energy solutions. Large scale investment has come to fruition, with the improvements made to existing technologies having the potential to offer greater returns to investors. It is a simple calculation – greater power output from an individual turbine, combined with lowering cost of production as efficiencies improve, equal a better deal for investors and a better deal for the environment. The Isle of Man, unexpectedly for some, has the potential to benefit from these developments. 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
 

Ken Milne is Director of Energy & Support Services at the Isle of Man Department of Economic Development.
 

FURTHER INFORMATION
 

 

  • The Isle of Man is a self-governing British Crown Dependency which has its own government, laws and currency, but has close constitutional links to the UK. One of the Island’s key advantages for investors is the relative ease of access to decision makers in government. You can find out more about doing business and funding opportunities on the Isle of Man at http://www.whereyoucan.com/HowWeCanHelp/list.aspx

 

 

  • The Isle of Man is hosting Islexpo on the 25th May 2016 at Villa Marina, Douglas, Isle of Man. Islexpo is a free one day conference intended to demonstrate opportunities for starting, growing or relocating a business on the Island.  Visit www.islexpo.com to register for this free event.

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