Cruis­ing with a wind farm lob­by­ist

Dick Durham goes for a sail and hears from an ex­pert why off­shore en­ergy is here to stay

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W her­ever the yachts­man sets sail in UK waters he’s never far from the twirling blades of some dis­tant wind­farm be­cause while Bri­tan­nia no longer rules the waves, the Queen does, and as the land­lady of the sea-bed she charges rent for power cre­ated there.

Her busi­ness, the Crown Es­tate brings in cash, 75 per cent for the Trea­sury and the rest for the Buck­ing­ham Palace cof­fers, from wind, wave and ti­dal power gen­er­a­tion. The big­gest of these is off­shore wind power, which brings in £28 mil­lion an­u­ally from wind farm leases alone.

From the Lon­don Ar­ray to Lin­con­shire, Bar­row to Blyth and Thanet to Teesside, there are now 29 fully op­er­a­tional off­shore wind farms with a ca­pac­ity of 5,355 megawatts (5.3 gi­gawatts) of power, which pro­duced 5.4 per cent of the UK’s to­tal elec­tric­ity con­sump­tion in 2016.

That megawatt fig­ure is set to dou­ble in UK waters – now dubbed the ‘Saudi Ara­bia of Off­shore Wind’ – over the next few years with the con­struc­tion of a fur­ther 12 off­shore wind farms, in­clud­ing the mas­sive Hornsea Project 1, which could re­sult in a man-made is­land, airstrip and har­bour on the Dog­ger Bank (See YM News, Sum­mer 2017 is­sue).

Yachts­men have ex­pressed fears of the nav­i­ga­tional haz­ards these gi­ant sea-bed im­plants can cre­ate, from the new Ram­pion farm off Brighton, which stands smack bang in the mid­dle of a favourite cross-Chan­nel pas­sage plan, to its Suf­folk sis­ter, the Gal­loper farm, and other new farms in­clud­ing those off Northum­ber­land, North Wales and Aberdeen.

So we asked Ju­lian Brown, the 54-year-old chair­man of the wind in­dus­try trade as­so­ci­a­tion Re­new­ableUK, who also hap­pens to be a life­long yachts­man, to put our minds at rest. I joined Ju­lian aboard

Arc­turus of Lyming­ton, his Jean­neau Sun Fast 42, at his pon­toon berth in Wool­ston, near Southamp­ton, for a day­sail while he talked. Af­ter cast­ing off we dropped down the River Itchen and Ju­lain laid the first

myth to rest, by re­as­sur­ing me that wind­farms are not off lim­its to the leisure sailor. It might still be worth avoid­ing them in strong winds, but not be­cause of the tur­bines.

In winds of 40 knots or more, the tur­bine blades ro­tate and change pitch – ‘A bit like heav­ing-to’, said Ju­lian – to give min­i­mum re­sis­tance, shut­ting down au­to­mat­i­cally. So when the whole farm stops mov­ing, any sea­man worth his salt should stay well clear any­way as, for ob­vi­ous rea­sons, wind farms are usu­ally built on off­shore shoals – not the place to head for in heavy weather. There was no fear of that today as we drifted in light sum­mer breezes down past Ocean Vil­lage to­wards Southamp­ton Wa­ter.

‘Wind tur­bines have to reg­u­late power in dif­fer­ent wind speeds, just like on a sail­ing boat, ex­cept we do it by reef­ing and then even­tu­ally go bare poles’ said Ju­lian. ‘As ex­pe­ri­enced skip­pers we un­der­stand the power in the wind and how to cap­ture it but also how to re­spect it.’

Scep­tics have long dis­missed wind en­ergy as a white ele­phant but as Ju­lian points out, the power in­dus­try is pri­va­tised, ‘so the only mo­tive is be­ing able to sell the en­ergy.’

He adds that although wind farms have been sub­sidised to get the in­dus­try started, this is easing and the costs of build­ing them are com­ing down rapidly as re­search and de­vel­op­ment ad­vances; and in any

case, oil, gas and nu­clear en­ergy are all sub­sidsed, too. OK, he would say that wouldn’t he? Yes, as a lob­by­ist for off­shore wind he would, but con­sider this: the great­est in­vest­ment go­ing into re­new­able en­ergy is in China, a coun­try not noted for en­vi­ron­men­tal com­pas­sion.

Arc­turus of Lyming­ton has a re­tractable bowsprit, which Ju­lian fit­ted, as he knows just how im­por­tant it is to get clear air. With the kite on the end of the sprit, there's enough of a slot for the genoa to fill with­out flow­ing dirty air into the spin­naker. To him it is a case of fit­ting the cor­rect kit to har­ness the free power of the wind.

‘Car­bon diox­ide, with­out any doubt, is driv­ing cli­mate change, so long-

term burn­ing of fu­els like coal and oil, which would re­quire car­bon cap­ture, is too ex­pen­sive. Gas is lower car­bon but not CO2 free. Nu­clear en­ergy has its haz­ards and is also prov­ing ex­pen­sive. The en­ergy the wind and sun sup­ply is free, all we have to do is con­tinue build­ing the ap­pa­ra­tus to catch it,’ Ju­lian said.

He be­lieves yachts­men are among the more en­light­ened when it comes to the UK’s en­ergy dilemma be­cause we face the same chal­lenges afloat.

‘Where does my power come from when I’m aboard?’ he asks rhetor­i­cally. ‘I can charge up from my smelly and noisy diesel en­gine, of course. Fuel cells are at­trac­tive but ex­pen­sive. I’d pre­fer to use shore power, but I can only do that in a ma­rina. I could use so­lar pan­els on deck, but only when the sun’s shin­ing. I can use a wind gen­er­a­tor, too, but only when the wind’s blow­ing…ev­ery yachts­man will make dif­fer­ent choices on dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sions, but he will un­der­stand the beauty of wind power, per­haps bet­ter than any­one else.’

But Ju­lian is not blind to the lim­i­ta­tions of off­shore wind power: ‘The UK needs a port­fo­lio of en­ergy sources just as we have on our boats. The growth of re­new­able elec­tric­ity is pro­gress­ing along­side sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments in weather fore­cast­ing – es­sen­tial for our grid operators to stay ahead of the game and reg­u­late all the dif­fer­ent en­ergy sys­tems.

‘Again, sailors un­der­stand this: we think ahead and treat en­ergy as a valu­able com­mod­ity, sav­ing it when we can and us­ing it wisely. Do we turn the fridge off be­cause the au­topi­lot is hun­gry and let the drinks go warm? The sun doesn’t shine at night and the wind doesn’t blow all the time. We un­der­stand the choices.’

Our cock­pit now looked like a down tools in a rope fac­tory: cordage ev­ery­where from sheets and guys, hal­yards and down­hauls.

‘The num­ber of peo­ple now em­ployed in the off­shore wind in­dus­try runs into tens of thou­sands. Peo­ple work in con­struc­tion and in­stal­la­tion, plan­ning and de­vel­op­ment, trans­port and other sup­port ser­vices,’ Ju­lian said.

The in­dus­try has given a ma­jor boost to ar­eas long suf­fer­ing from eco­nomic de­cline and unem­ploy­ment in­clud­ing Grimsby, Great Yar­mouth, Low­est­oft, Hartle­pool, Work­ing­ton, Bar­row and Liver­pool.

And in the heart of the UK’s

most pop­u­lar sail­ing area, The So­lent, the man­u­fac­tur­ing of tur­bine blades is now so ad­vanced it is hoped soon that the 270 jobs pro­vided by the al­liance of Mit­subishi Heavy In­dus­tries and Ves­tas Wind Sys­tems on the Isle of Wight will re­sult in a healthy ex­port mar­ket – MHI Ves­tas Off­shore Wind has al­ready an­nounced it will be ex­port­ing blades to a Ger­man off­shore wind farm. At the Isle of Wight fac­tory the long­est tur­bine blades in the world are be­ing built. At 80m, nearly the length of Manch­ester United’s ground, these blades serve the pow­er­ful V1648MW tur­bine.

Just one of these broke the world record for power out­put in 2014, pro­duc­ing 192,000 units of elec­tric­ity in a day, enough to power 45 UK house­holds for a year. A sin­gle ro­ta­tion of one of these tur­bines could power a BMW i3 for 40 miles.

There have been con­cerns ex­pressed by en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists that the sonar used in sea-bed sur­veys for the foun­da­tions of tur­bines may be hav­ing a dam­ag­ing ef­fect on mam­mals. The beach­ing of sperm whales in The Wash last year re­mains a mys­tery, but it is known sonar can dam­age their brains.

The jury is still out on this par­tic­u­lar is­sue, and whale beach­ing has been oc­cur­ring for hun­dreds of years, long be­fore off­shore wind tech­nol­ogy was in­vented, but Ju­lian said that the in­dus­try goes to great lengths to limit im­pact on the ma­rine en­vi­ron­ment, us­ing ‘bub­ble cur­tains’ around foun­da­tions to re­duce pil­ing noise dur­ing in­stal­la­tion, for ex­am­ple. Off­shore wind com­pa­nies work closely with or­gan­i­sa­tions such as Nat­u­ral Eng­land and the Ma­rine Man­age­ment Or­gan­i­sa­tion to un­der­stand and mit­i­gate the po­ten­tial ef­fects of projects on wildlife. The in­dus­try also un­der­takes ex­ten­sive en­vi­ron­men­tal stud­ies be­fore start­ing con­struc­tion.

Per­haps the strangest boost to off­shore wind power has come, by de­fault, from US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. In­dus­try sources say that since he pulled Amer­ica out of the Paris Agree­ment on Cli­mate Change, global sup­port for re­new­able en­ergy has ac­tu­ally in­creased.

The in­dus­try pre­dicts that the UK will have 10GW-worth of off­shore wind­power by 2020, enough to sup­ply 10 per cent of elec­tric­ity for the UK’s to­tal power sup­ply and 15GW by 2025.

The lonely whirling tow­ers at sea are set to grow in great numbers, and while they will not re­place more con­ven­tional power sources for many decades, their pres­ence will not just add to the mix, but will serve as col­lec­tive flagstaffs for en­light­ened and pro­gres­sive en­ergy pol­icy.

Ac­cu­rate weather fore­casts al­low power com­pa­nies to com­pen­sate for light winds

Wind farms are here to stay, and will con­tinue to grow around the UK coast

Dick and Ju­lian get sail­ing as the wind fills in, while they dis­cuss wind power ABOVE: Yachts­men may not like off­shore wind farms, but they un­der­stand man­ag­ing lim­ited en­ergy with re­new­able re­sources

All cur­rent UK off­shore re­new­able en­ergy projects, in­clud­ing tide and wave power Ac­tive/In op­er­a­tion Un­der con­struc­tion Con­sented In plan­ning Pre-plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion Wave site Ti­dal site

It may ap­pear daunt­ing, but yachts can sail through wind farms, as long as con­struc­tion has fin­ished

The UK is one of the most suit­able sites for off­shore wind power in the world

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