I\’m really not sure about this offshore wind you know

Financially, if not ornithologically, however, Sykes – UK manager for wind power for DONG Energy – has an interest in the fate of this little bird. The Danish company and its partners, Germany’s E.On and UAE’s Masdar, have just built the world’s biggest offshore wind farm, the London Array.

The 175-turbine, £1.9bn project sprawls across almost 40 square miles, some 12 miles north off the Kent coast.

With 630MW capacity it is capable of powering 500,000 homes a year. It also happens to be close the spot where thousands of red-throated divers like to spend winter. The project, formally opened by David Cameron on Thursday, had its design amended amid concern for the birds.

Leave aside all the stuff about intermittency, cost (horrendous) and backup. The one thing I\’ve not seen a decent discussion of is maintenance costs. I\’m sure there is one out there. But marine environments are very well known indeed for having vast maintenance costs over the 25 year expected lifespan of this array. Would anyone who actually knows about this (there are, I know, several engineering types reading) care to comment on this?

I rather get the impression that he politicians and boosters seem to think that once you\’ve built the things then you just get the free energy for 25 years. And I\’m absolutely certain that sticking 175 turbiones in the North Sea is going to require significant ongoing cost.

15 comments on “I\’m really not sure about this offshore wind you know

  1. There’ll be some expensive end of life decommissioning costs as well. I suspect no where near nuclear but maybe on a par with an oil rig and those need to be added to the the total maintenance costs as well.

  2. there are a number of issues with this

    maintenance – it’s obviously more expensive and weather dependent to whistle up a bloke in a boat (and a floating crane barge if necessary) than it is to drive up in a Landrover

    decommissioning – not actually that much, I don’t think; the bases are concrete blocks cemented into the seabed as far as I know and the superstructure can in theory be unbolted and removed, unlike most of the major fixed structures in the North Sea. The windfarms are also based in much shallower water so the structures are lighter and subject to much lower levels of stress than oil platforms

    storm damage – one thing a friend of mine did find out a few years ago is that wave/tidal power can’t be made viable just yet because we don’t understand the statistics let alone the interactions of waves. The European Space Agency sent up a satellite a couple of decades ago to measure wave height – alll it does it circle the globe bouncing a radar beam off the sea’s surface and seeing how high the waves are. The scientists who analysed the data found that all of our distribution models of wave height are wrong and there are very many more very large waves than we can explain. This means that anything built to go into the sea is going to face significant wave events way more frequently than most models assume. If this hasn’t been factored into the design of the windfarms then it might take one serious equinoctial storm to cause some serious damage and a PR disaster

  3. PS also not sure if this holds true but a few years ago there wasn’t a windfarm anywhere in the UK that produced on average more than 50% of the electricity output assumed in the planning application

  4. Now if they had had half a clue they would have asked the north sea oil industry for a cost model.

    That, of course, would have killed the whole idea stone cold dead, so of course they haven’t, or kept it very quite if they did.

  5. I predict that in ten years time the greenies will be all over the wind farms decrying the damage to the environment as they are decommissioned in a haphazard manner with the concrete bases left in the sea and damage to the sea floor as well.

    Then in twenty years time the greenies will be all over the remnants of the wind farms crowing about how they are creating micro-environments for rare species of marine life.

    Then in thirty years time the greenies will be all over the micro-environments created by the ruins of the wind farms asking for them to be made sites of special scientific interest and that no marine traffic should go near or over them. They will call for public money to be poured into studying the species that gather at these locations.

    Greenies fickle and switch allegiance and attention to anything that allows them lots of publicity? Never!

  6. Because it was interesting, I kept a note of the proportion of non-turning windmills (for no obvious reason) I saw on my travels from Holland to Southern Spain. Disregarded any that were under construction.with cranes on-site. Round about 8%.
    Discussed this on a couple of internet forums & the figure didn’t seem to be far out. But the companies are very reluctant to release down-time figures, apparently.
    That’s land sited, of course, where maintenance access is easier.

  7. Flatcap Army

    decommissioning – not actually that much, I don’t think; the bases are concrete blocks cemented into the seabed as far as I know

    You want to bet the Greenies will demand those concrete bases are removed rather than left on site?

    The European Space Agency sent up a satellite a couple of decades ago to measure wave height – alll it does it circle the globe bouncing a radar beam off the sea’s surface and seeing how high the waves are.

    Didn’t the Americans do some work on this in an effort to see if they could spot the bulge caused by nuclear submarines?

    This means that anything built to go into the sea is going to face significant wave events way more frequently than most models assume.

    Although Kent? The big waves will be off the west coast of Ireland and Scotland surely? In the Channel, will waves have all that much time to grow all that large?

    SadButMadLad

    Then in thirty years time the greenies will be all over the micro-environments created by the ruins of the wind farms asking for them to be made sites of special scientific interest and that no marine traffic should go near or over them. They will call for public money to be poured into studying the species that gather at these locations.

    Yeah, it is not so funny because it is true. As I said at the time of the Brent Spar, the best thing they would do with it was dump it at sea. It would provide a wealth of nooks and crannies for marine life. And no fishing boat would dare go within several kilometres of it. Think what would happen if hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of net got snagged on the Brent Spar.

    But no. Greenpeace had to lie through their teeth and get it buried on land. By now it would be one of the more valuable and interesting dive sites in Europe.

    This may well be the one advantage of wind farms. Sink the buggers and let them become an artificial reef.

  8. Tim, you really don’t get it.

    Buliding these things in inhospitable environments increases the amount of maintenance required. That creates jobs, and jobs are a benefit, not a cost.

    Please do try to keep up.

  9. The costs will be on a par with those of the oil industry, for the simple reason that they will be competing with the oil industry for the manpower, vessels, materials, and equipment needed to do the maintenance. And when they see what offshore oilfield maintenance costs, they’ll shit a brick.

  10. DONG rings a bell. They had bought some dodgy steel from the mafia and laid a 30 inch pipeline to Esbjerg. I got asked to check the remaining pipes on land for insurance purposes. I thought up a little gadget and an automated procedure to replace the long winded bullshit I was being asked to do, and proposed this to management on the basis that in fact a few faults (mafia steel is not all bad) could be easily repaired (and would give me a nice little sinecure).
    As luck would have it, the same day I proposed this jolly scheme Lloyds agreed to pay out £50 million for a new pipelline.
    Naturally, I was sacked on the spot.

    TimN. What’s the cost of a maintainance vessel these days? Not much change from £50K per day?

    Shallow water won’t change the costs much. Less material, but the major risks are tides scouring foundations and waves battering the upper parts. The bit in between can largely be ignored.

  11. I’m glad to see a touch of humour infiltrating the energy debate.

    DONG Energy?

    I’d love to have seen the business plan…

    And it’s Danish! Perhaps it was inspired by an old CC film.

  12. Danish Oil and Natural Gas.
    WTF they are doing with renewables? Not much ONG.

  13. then you just get the free energy for 25 years

    There’s accumulating evidence that these things won’t come near their “design life”. It seems unlikely that we’ll get
    25 years out of them. 12-15 years, max, if His Grace’s link is to be believed. So double your capital costs right away.

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