Two of the world's largest wind turbines have been deployed 12 miles east of Helmsdale off the Caithness coast, and are currently generating electricity for the Beatrice Alpha oil platform.
The Talisman Beatrice Wind Farm Demonstrator project consists of the two 5MW machines, which are the world's first deep water offshore wind turbines, installed in waters over 40m deep.
The project is providing renewable energy for the Beatrice Alpha oil platform previously operated by Talisman Energy (UK) Ltd and now by Ithaca Energy. The oil platform draws its electricity direct from the National Grid, however the wind farm is currently generating approximately 30% of the platform's daily requirement. The EUR50 million demonstration project is being hailed as a crucial step forward in deploying offshore wind power. Though considered shallow waters by the standards of the North Sea oil and gas industry, the 40 metre plus depth is a good, if challenging, test bed for the fledgling deep water offshore wind industry.
The Talisman Beatrice experiment came about as a result of Talisman looking for new ways to reduce operating costs, extend the field life of the asset and identify new opportunities for existing oil field infrastructure. With a significant wind resource and an existing grid connection, the Talisman Beatrice Alpha platform 12 miles off the east coast of Caithness was the ideal candidate for this innovative project.
A preliminary study indicated that a large-scale development re-using the main Beatrice infrastructure as a hub could be commercial, but would require further detailed evaluation. The study also showed that a successful development would require a new combination of skills including offshore expertise from the oil and gas industry with that of the utility business. As a result Talisman partnered with Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE), a major UK utility, to progress the concept of offshore wind in the Moray Firth.
To access EU funding for the project, Talisman brought together a pan-European consortium of fifteen European companies and research agencies and universities from six countries. The mission of the consortium, known as DOWNVInD (Distant Offshore Windfarms with No Visual Impact in Deepwater), is to be a catalyst for commercialising deepwater wind farm technology.
Unlike most other platforms, Beatrice is supplied with electricity via a sub sea cable connected to the National Grid; the daily electricity demand amounts to approximately 14MW. The electricity generated by the two wind turbines is helping to reduce the oil platform’s demand for electricity from the grid by around 30%.
The demonstrator project will operate for five years until 2011 and aims to prove the commercial viability of deep water off shore wind technology. If the project proves successful, the site could be the subject of a much larger wind farm with up to 200 turbines, subject to consent and planning.