Technology crossovers from the oil and gas and other engineering-related industries have already spawned new windpower breakthrough developments, including the world’s first deepwater offshore wind demonstrator project, deploying the world’s largest wind turbines, and new seabed seating solutions.
In Scotland overall, windpower generation capacity has already overtaken that of its huge hydropower industry – at nearly 1,850 megawatts (MW) by the end of 2009, compared to hydro’s 1,500 MW – and its potential capacity is many times greater still.
This region makes up just over half of Scotland, whose wind generation capacity is put at more than 36 gigawatts, or 25 per cent of Europe’s total. Scotland’s onshore wind generation already supports nearly 3,000 jobs, with estimated potential to support another 16,000 in ten years.
It will play a huge role in meeting national renewables targets – with wind currently seen as the main component up to 2020 – and in contributing to employment, economic gain and rural community sustainability.
A medium-sized wind farm, developed about 10 miles south of Inverness by npower renewables, helps demonstrate the scale of power generated. Farr wind farm’s 40 turbines have a combined capacity of 92 megawatts. Taking into account windspeed variations, Farr generates enough clean electricity annually to power an average 54,000 homes, or more than half the homes in the Highlands.
Massive windpower resources are also set to be harnessed through offshore sites, where bigger, more powerful turbines can operate, without some of the scenic and other constraints that can affect onshore activity. Here the Highlands are at the cutting edge of development, due not least to the area’s fund of transferable knowledge and skills from the oil and gas industry.
Some 15 miles off Caithness, in 45 metres of North Sea, is the site of the world’s first deep-water demonstration offshore wind project. The £29 million private/public Talisman Beatrice Wind Farm Demonstrator Project has seen the design, construction, installation and operation of two, 5 megawatt turbines.
At 234.5 metres from sub-seabed to blade tip, they are the tallest in the world and power part of the adjacent Beatrice Alpha oil platform's 14 MW daily needs.
The ambitious project has big growth aspirations, and the Crown Estate has awarded ‘exclusivity agreements’ on this and three West Highland coast sites. These allow developers to begin surveys and consultations to develop major turbine arrays totalling nearly 3,500 megawatts, while the Scottish Government completes a one-year strategic environmental assessment for offshore wind around its coasts.
The Beatrice pilot entailed major Highlands and Islands supply chain support.
Much of the facility was manufactured and deployed by local companies – including Camcal in the Outer Hebrides (this operation is now owned and operated by Burntisland Fabrications Ltd), Isleburn (Easter Ross) and Weldex (Inverness) – whose experience in wind-related manufacturing, engineering and deployment has evolved as the sector has grown.
Previous oil and gas experience enabled other world firsts at Beatrice, including use of a “jacket” sub-sea structure for the turbines, onshore assembly of the turbines, towers, hubs and blades in one piece, and offshore installation from a floating vessel.
The growth of windpower has also attracted new entrants to the region’s supply chain who are generating employment and augmenting the skills base.
In Campbeltown, on Argyll’s Kintyre peninsula, Danish-owned Skykon Campbeltown Ltd took over an existing wind turbine structures factory in spring, 2009, and immediately set about a two-year development programme to triple its capacity and quadruple the workforce. The £35 million project sees a workforce of about 400 building structures for the British and other markets.
Welcon received an early boost, in June 2009, with the announcement of a £10 million order to supply all 152 turbine towers for Scottish and Southern Energy’s giant new Clyde wind farm in Lanarkshire, set for completion in 2012.
Skilled employment underpins communities like Kintyre, while the Farr wind farm, mentioned earlier, illustrates wider community benefit, beyond employment in construction, maintenance and other operations.
Owners npower reached agreement with two nearby rural communities to make them a combined lump sum community benefit payment of £1million on completion of construction, along with an index-linked annual payment of just over £1,000 per MW generated for the project’s 25-year life.
Communities, particularly in remoter areas, are also turning to their own generation needs, by wind and other means, to overcome supply issues, secure their wellbeing, and even to create new income through selling surplus power into the grid.
On the Argyll island of Gigha, bought by its 100-strong population in 2001, the residents have established the UK’s first grid-connected, local community-owned wind farm. The community purchased three used 225 kilowatt machines, which power their needs and also produce an annual income to the community of about £80,000. Funding assistance from public sector bodies including Highlands and Islands Enterprise helped enable the project.
Community and commercial interests are also combining to address much larger-scale opportunities for mutual benefit. In Shetland, Viking Energy, a joint venture between the islands’ community and Scottish and Southern Energy, has applied to the Scottish Government to build a 150 turbine, 540 megawatt wind farm.
Shetland’s wind regime makes it one of the most productive generating areas in the world and Viking expect the project to return over £37 million a year to the local economy, providing an average of 234 jobs over the construction phase and about 55 jobs in operation. Proponents say Shetland can make a unique climate change contribution, in meeting 12 per cent of Scotland’s 2020 renewable energy target, using its natural resources.
Though planning negotiations could see modifications to the proposed project’s scale and design, the intention is to achieve a ‘critical mass’ to justify a hefty subsea grid cable to the islands. This link would also help unlock Shetland’s huge wave and tidal energy potential, harnessed through emerging technologies pioneered not least in the Highlands and Islands.