Mon, Jan 01, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Dutch utility plans to build artificial wind energy island in the North Sea

Experts said the giant scale of the project would pose difficulties, but might also attract investors with a high threshold, such as oil company Royal Dutch Shell, to invest in offshore wind energy developments

By Adam Vaughan  /  The Guardian

Illustration: Yusha

Dutch and British homes could be lit and powered by wind farms surrounding an artificial island deep out in the North Sea, under advanced plans by Dutch transmission system operator TenneT BV.

The radical proposal envisages an island being built to act as a hub for vast offshore wind farms that would eclipse today’s facilities in scale. Dogger Bank, 125km off the East Yorkshire coast, has been identified as a potentially windy and shallow site.

The power hub would send electricity over a long-distance cable to the UK and the Netherlands, and possibly later to Belgium, Germany and Denmark.

TenneT recently shared early findings of a study that said its plan could be billions of euros cheaper than conventional wind farms and international power cables .

The sci-fi-sounding proposal is sold as an innovative answer to the industry’s challenge of continuing to make offshore wind power cheaper while turbines are pushed ever further off the coast to more expensive sites as the best spots closer to land fill up.

“It’s crucial for industry to continue with the cost reduction path,” TenneT manager of North Sea infrastructure Rob van der Hage said. “The big challenge we are facing toward 2030 and 2050 is onshore wind is hampered by local opposition and nearshore is nearly full. It’s logical we are looking at areas further offshore.”

As each kilometer out to sea means another kilometer of expensive cabling to get the power back to land, the firm argues a more innovative approach is needed.

The island idea would theoretically solve that by allowing economies of scale and higher wind speeds, and mean relatively short, affordable cables taking power from offshore turbines to the island.

There, converters will change it from alternating current — as used in mains electricity, but which incurs losses of power over long distances — to direct current for transmission back to the Netherlands or the UK.

That long-distance cable, an interconnector, would give the wind farms flexibility to supply whichever country’s market is paying the most for power at any given time and mean that the power almost always has a use.

To accommodate all the equipment, the island would take up 5 to 6 square kilometers, about one-fifth the size of Hayling Island in the English Channel.

While the actual engineering challenge of building the island seems enormous, Van der Hage is not daunted.

“Is it difficult? In the Netherlands, when we see a piece of water we want to build islands or land. We’ve been doing that for centuries. That is not the biggest challenge,” he said.

The more significant obstacles for the plan look likely to be economic.

While TenneT could shoulder the estimated 1.5 billion euro (US$1.8 billion) cost of building the hub at the project’s heart, it is not allowed to build power generation, so that would be left to offshore wind farm developers such as Denmark’s Orsted and Germany’s Innogy.

However, to get them on board, TenneT needs to find other energy network operators, such as the UK’s National Grid, to help pay for the long-distance power cable.

The next steps for the plan will come next year, in the shape of a roadmap published in the Netherlands.

If all goes well, Van der Hage said that the earliest the island could be operational is 2027, with the wind farms to follow.

The ambition for the scheme is sky-high. TenneT thinks the project could handle wind farms with a capacity of 30GW, more than twice today’s total installed offshore wind power across the whole of Europe. That scale could entice new investors.

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