Jillian Ambrose writes up another glowing advertising piece for the offshore wind industry:
The sound made by 100 tonnes of steel and carbon fibre rotating 400 feet overhead is surprisingly understated. Each whoosh of the 260 foot blades spans an area the size of the London Eye and generates enough electricity to power the average British home for 24 hours.
There are 32 of these 8MW turbines in the second phase of Dong Energy’s Burbo Bank wind farm spinning off the Merseyside coast.
They are the most powerful ever, dotting an area the size of almost 6,000 football pitches within the Irish Sea, each one a beacon of Britain’s global dominance in the booming offshore wind industry.
Benj Sykes, the UK boss for Dong Energy’s wind power business, predicts he may be cutting the ribbon on turbines with double this power capacity by 2024.
“If you wind the clock back four or five years, this scale of technology was considered very ambitious. Now, you can see them in reality, commercially deployed. It’s very difficult to say where we will ultimately get to,” he says.
Wind turbines have already more than doubled their power capacity since Dong Energy constructed the first phase of Burbo Bank in 2007 with 3.7MW structures. By the mid-2020s turbines may double again and a capacity of 15MW could be spinning in Europe’s waters.
As the efficiency and power potential of each turbine increases, costs keep falling.
Sykes, a former oil executive at Royal Dutch Shell, has been at the helm of the Danish energy company’s UK operations for five years. In this time offshore wind has defied critics by driving its eye-watering costs down by a third, twice as quickly as planned.
“I remember when the industry in the UK first set what we very carefully referred to as an ‘ambition’ rather than a target for cost reduction. It was to drive costs to £100 a megawatt hour. Well, we’ve already broken through the £100 barrier,” he says.
The company is expected to emerge from the Government’s latest low-carbon subsidy auction as the major victor, but Sykes will not be drawn on price predictions beyond saying costs will fall below the £92.50/MWh contract price for Hinkley Point C. Experts believe offshore wind contracts set at £85 a megawatt hour are possible.
All of this sounds wonderful until you look at that price of £85/MWh. In fact, these prices are, misleadingly, at 2012 prices. This is the way that the government’s CfD operates.
At current prices, the figure of £85/MWh works out at about £92/MWh. This is more than double the wholesale price of £42.60/MWh.
Both DONG boss, Sykes, and Renewables UK’s Emma Pinchbeck, who is also given a lot of space, are allowed to warble on about new jobs and investment, without the least bit of critical questioning from Ambrose.
If she had got a degree in Economics, instead of Journalism, Media Studies, and English Literature, she might have known that these subsidised jobs come at the expense of others in the economy.
She also does not appear to recognise that consumers have to pay to keep standby capacity ticking over for when there is no wind. She also refers to an offshore project near Martha’s Vineyard, which Scottish Power have successfully bid for:
Anderson (boss of Scottish Power Renewables) has quietly broken into the US market by successfully bidding for two major US offshore wind projects, each the size of its entire UK portfolio.
It will make its US debut with the Vineyard Wind project 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts after snapping up a 50pc stake in the project. It could begin generating power within five years. The second foray is located off the coast of North Carolina and is expected to power up by 2025.
She omits to explain that Massachusetts passed a law last year requiring utilities to procure a combined 1,600 megawatts of electricity from offshore wind farms in a little over 10 years.
As with the UK, there would not be a market for offshore wind without the plethora of subsidies and political mandates.