The hot news in off-shore wind power a couple of years back was the decision of Shell to pull out of the Cirrus off-shore wind array proposed for the North West. Checking my facts, I Googled “abandoned off-shore wind projects”, and came up with a rather long list — you might like to try it. As recently as last month the Scottish government (in the UK’s windiest area) abandoned two projects which together amounted to 580 MW. Clearly there are problems with off-shore wind.
Nonetheless the CEO of Areva’s renewables business was bullish on wind last week. Areva is of course best known for its major nuclear programme, but like most major energy companies it is genuflecting vigorously to the modish enthusiasm for renewables.
Mr. Anil Srivastava (for it was he) addressed the European Energy Forum, run by my good friend Giles Chichester MEP (SW), last Tuesday at a dinner in Brussels. He also sponsored the dinner, for which I am grateful.
During the debate, I set out a series of problems with off-shore wind, and though Mr. Srivastava dealt with them confidently and professionally, I was not entirely convinced. Off-shore wind avoids (at least in part) the problems of visual intrusion associated with on-shore wind. It does not cause health issues for local residents as on-shore does, nor does it blight communities and homes and lives in quite the same way. In addition, it benefits, generally speaking, from more consistent winds and therefore better load factors.
Against that, it costs more to build, more to deliver, more to install, and very much more to connect to the grid. One off-shore wind-farm near Blythe, Northumberland, was spinning disconsolately and uselessly for nearly three years after the grid connection broke and proved problematic to re-connect. Off-shore turbines are also, of course, much more expensive to maintain. I am waiting for the day when a substantial ship collides with an off-shore turbine, as is bound to happen sooner or later. And I have heard complaints from in-shore fishermen that the installation of turbines at sea has caused silting over shell-fish beds which can take them out of production for years.
Another key problem is durability of the turbines in the very harsh and challenging off-shore environment. One large array in Denmark with a planned operating life of 25 years required all the turbines to be replaced or substantially repaired within eighteen months. Mr. Srivastava mentioned a planned operational life of 25 years. I fear that that may be optimistic.
Like many advocates of wind, Mr. Srivastava was happy to dismiss the intermittency problem by saying that “it’s always blowing somewhere”, and that therefore so long as we had plenty of offshore wind, widely distributed, intermittency would not be a problem. I took issue on that, since in the UK it is not uncommon to have a persistent high pressure area, with low winds, across the whole country, sometimes for days. This often happens in winter, when we have the greatest need for energy.
By a piece of serendipity, I received today a link to an article which makes exactly this point and is worth a look. It’s entitled “Geographic diversification of wind power has no bearing on its variability”.
So I was grateful to Mr. Srivastava for the hospitality, but I shan’t be buying shares in any off-shore wind projects just now, thank you very much.