Saturday, October 16, 2010

The rise of British sea power

Investment in offshore renewable technologies is making the prospect of the UK
becoming a net exporter of energy a real possibility
(Pelamis Wave Energy Converter generating electricity into the Portuguese grid off the coast of Agu├žadoura, Portugal)

From TheGuardian

Speaking in his first address to the House of Commons as energy and climate change secretary, Chris Huhne outlined the full scale of the government's renewable energy ambitions.
"In due course," he said, "we may once again be a net energy exporter, as we were during the peak of oil and gas in the North Sea."

The ambitious goal is more credible than it sounds, with energy industry experts convinced offshore wind farms and marine energy parks could produce more power than the UK needs.
Citing recent research from the government and the industry-backed
Offshore Valuation Group, Huhne argued it was possible to re-establish the UK as a net producer of energy, as it was between 1994 and 2004 – only this time using clean and sustainable sources of energy.

The study found that harnessing just over 75% of the available offshore energy resource would produce enough renewable power for the UK to power its own economy and export excess electricity to northern Europe.
"We have a resource that's larger than we can use in the UK and to accrue value from that resource we have to export energy," explains the report's lead author Tim Helweg-Larsen.
"We need a switch in mentality to realise this offshore energy is as valuable to the rest of Europe as it is to the UK."

Plans for a 'supergrid'

There are encouraging signs that both the energy industry and the government are beginning to understand the importance of linking Britain's planned offshore energy parks with the continent.
Last year, the UK joined with eight other countries to form the North Seas Countries'
Offshore Grid Initiative – a new group dedicated to developing an international "supergrid" allowing countries across northern Europe to import and export renewable electricity.
Meanwhile, Huhne recently announced plans for a new offshore planning regime designed to "help speed up the connection of new generation to the grid", while industry insiders are confident a £60m plan to upgrade the North Sea ports that will support offshore wind farms will survive the imminent spending cuts.

Carbon Trust is also overseeing a major research project to identify new turbine foundation technologies that promise to slash installation costs.
"Bringing down the cost of offshore energy is the cornerstone that is needed if we are to become a net exporter of energy," argues Phil de Villiers, head of the Carbon Trust's Offshore Accelerator Programme.
"We estimate that with the right R&D we can reduce the cost of offshore wind farms by 40% by 2020."

All this activity has attracted engineering firms looking to cash in on the second North Sea energy boom.
In a remarkable turnaround for a British wind energy sector that only last summer was mourning the closure of Britain's only large turbine manufacturing plant, the past few months have seen General Electric, Siemens, Mitsubishi Electric and US wind turbine developer Clipper Windpower all announce plans for new offshore wind turbine factories and R&D projects in the UK.

The appeal to investors is obvious, according to Peter Madigan, head of offshore energy at trade association
"We have the most installed offshore capacity and the most ambitious plans for new capacity anywhere in the world," he says, adding that offshore wind farms are also less likely to face the planning objections that have routinely blocked onshore developments.
Moreover, the UK's oil and gas industry is providing offshore energy developers with a pool of engineers with experience working in marine environments.

Marine technologies

The burgeoning success of the offshore wind industry is also likely to have a knock-on effect on the embryonic marine energy sector.
Currently, wave and tidal generators are in the pilot phase with just 2MW of marine energy capacity installed in the UK – barely enough to power 2,000 homes.
However, earlier this year the Scottish government exceeded industry expectations by leasing waters off the coast of Orkney and in the Pentland Firth, which runs between northern Scotland and the islands of Orkney, to 10 projects that could add 1.2GW of capacity, a potential 600-fold increase.
At the other end of the country, off the Cornish coast, the £40m Wave Hub facility was successfully installed last month, providing developers with a state-of-the-art test site for new marine energy technologies.

For Helweg-Larsen, the combination of offshore wind and marine energy has the potential to transform both the British economy and the wider European energy landscape.
"The attraction of going offshore for energy is that we have this vast space and very strong winds," he observes.
"It is a massive challenge to tap that resource, but it is a challenge for politicians and industry because it is technically feasible."

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