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Inside wind power – can the UK make enough economic waves to maintain its leading role? –

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Inside wind power – can the UK make enough economic waves to maintain its leading role?

By James Brewer

Across its windswept seas, the UK has become an energy leader. The nation’s wind farm projects puffed up European offshore wind energy capacity by 50% in the first half of 2012, according to the European Wind Energy Association. Of the 132 connected turbines, 114 were in UK waters. Not all winds are favourable for this sector though – borne on the breeze are questions as to the fundamental viability of this form of energy.

Professor Peter Tavner has marshalled his extensive experience in the power sector to analyse the problems that need to be solved – and he has every confidence that they can be.  His new book, Offshore Wind Turbines offers keys to improving the economics of wind power.

It is published at an opportune time: wind power costs have generally fallen, and the sight of giant structures bestriding the landscape has been accepted in the United States as part of the energy mix. Siemens is planning to supply larger turbines to Denmark’s Dong Energy. The Scottish Government is studying an application by a renewable consortium to build the world’s biggest offshore wind farm by 2020 in the Moray Firth, covering 134 sq miles of sea.

In support of its project, Moray Offshore Renewables – a joint venture between EDP and Repsol – said: “We believe that by marrying the proven technology of onshore wind generation with Scotland’s expertise in working in the deep and challenging waters of the North Sea, we can create a secure, plentiful supply of low-carbon electricity; enough to meet the need of almost half of Scotland’s households, without burning any coal or gas; and without creating radioactive waste.”

The joint venture will have to trump the arguments of tycoon Donald Trump who fears a wind farm would damage his luxury golf development in Aberdeenshire. The message going out is that the wind project will help the Edinburgh authorities achieve their aim of generating all of Scotland’s energy from renewable varieties by 2020.

Contradictory signs emanate from London, where David Cameron’s earlier aspiration to lead the greenest government ever have been opened to scorn by the cancellation, citing lack of subsidy and lack of orders, by Vestas of Denmark,   of plans for a wind turbine manufacturing plant on the Isle of Sheppey. The prime minister has just appointed as his environment minister Owen Paterson, who has criticised wind farms, and to the horror of many campaigners favours the system of hydraulic fracturing of shale rock to free gas. How he will get on with the Liberal Democrat energy and climate change secretary Ed Davey will make intriguing fuel for the Westminster political boiler.

Peter Tavner is professor of new and renewable energy at the School of Engineering and Computing Sciences at Durham University, and his naval training including service as a weapons electrical officer in the Royal Navy on guided missile destroyers has lent him insight into how efficient offshore engineering structures should be installed, maintained, and operated. A deep understanding of these processes is a precious asset because as with other offshore structures, turbines need the right maintenance to achieve reliability and longevity to control costs in this emerging industry that is subject to harsh environments. Refreshingly, Prof Tavner comes from the other side of the page: he has been analysing this challenge for 10 years, but his main technical experience was in the conventional fossil- and nuclear-fired supply industry.  Now he is able to draw lessons from the old and new generating sectors.

Wind power has become the king of renewables, a source from which the European Union wants to generate 20% of its energy by 2020.The UK share of this target is 15%, implying an increase to between 30% 40% of electricity from the current 5%. Meeting these goals will require political vision – and the kind of engineering expertise nestling in the Institution of Engineering & Technology – Europe s largest professional body of engineers with over 150, 000 members in 127 countries – as exemplified by Prof Tavner.

Offshore Wind Turbines:  Reliability, availability and maintenance. By Peter Tavner. Price: £70

Published by the Institution of Engineering & Technology www.theiet.org/books

ISBN:  978-1-84919-229-3

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