Windmills at Sea: Energy Entrepreneurs Are Looking Offshore for Wind Power
Gallagher, David, Alternatives Journal
The winds of change are blowing fast over the world's oceans, and energy developers intend to harness them. The offshore wind industry is positioned for a huge boost in coming years, with several new project proposals for Europe and North America.
Offshore wind parks (or farms) have sprouted up along the Northern European shoreline, and are now being proposed for the United States and Canada.
Existing wind parks are currently in operation off the coast of Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands, and the UK. New European offshore projects are being planned for Denmark, Sweden, The Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Spain and Ireland.
In December 2001, the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) held its Conference on Offshore Wind Energy in Brussels. While current offshore wind energy production is only 96 megawatts (MW), the group predicts that by 2020 it could be as high as 50,000 MW. This would provide for about five percent of Europe's electricity needs - enough to power 17.5 million homes.
The Irish plan for a 200-turbine wind park on Arklow Banks would be the world's largest offshore wind park to date. The project is a joint venture between the Irish engineering company Fehily Timoney Gifford and the Danish Ramboll Company. The Arklow Banks are seven kilometres from the southeast coast of Ireland, in relatively shallow water (5 to 25 metres). When fully operational, the farm will produce as much as 520 MW of electricity.
The Irish Marine and Natural Resources Minister Frank Fahey has lauded the project. "The Arklow Banks project will have three times the combined capacity of all offshore wind farms currently in production in the world," Fahey says. "Arldow Banks will become a model development."
The Arklow Banks project will contribute greatly to Ireland's ability to meet its greenhouse gas commitment under the Kyoto Protocol. When completed, the site will supply ten percent of Ireland's electricity requirements. According to the Irish Wind Energy Association, the operation will generate no air pollutants or greenhouse gases, saving 13.5 million tonnes of [CO.sub.2] annually.
Offshore wind parks have clear advantages over their land-based equivalents. The most important considerations are wind speed and reliability. Most land-based sites cannot offer a reliable source of wind, which makes it difficult to find investors willing to gamble on the technology. Ocean winds are typically more constant and speeds can be 20 percent higher than on land, resulting in a better energy yield. These benefits help offset the higher cost of building and maintaining equipment at sea.
Another problem with land-based wind parks is that they take up a great deal of space, which can be expensive in Europe and elsewhere. They are also potential eyesores for local residents.
Offshore wind parks have not yet become a reality in Canada, but one has been proposed in the shallow waters of Hecate Strait off the coast of Haida Gwaii/Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia. The Nai Kun Wind Park will be a 700-MW project, which could become the largest wind park in the world. Envisioned as a joint venture between Vancouver-based Uniterre Resources Ltd. and Swiss-German industrial giant ABB Ltd. …