I’m pretty sure this won’t work

In fact, I’m certain that this won’t work:

The world’s biggest offshore wind farm is to be built 75 miles off the coast of Grimsby, at an estimated cost to energy bill-payers of at least £4.2 billion.
The giant Hornsea Project One wind farm will consist of 174 turbines, each 623ft tall – higher than the Gherkin building in London – and will span an area more than five times the size of Hull.

The certainty this won’t work is this:

The wind farm was handed a subsidy contract by former energy secretary Ed Davey in 2014 that will see it paid four times the current market price of power for every unit of electricity it generates for 15 years.

Consumers will be on the hook to pay subsidies to make up the difference between the market price of power – currently about £35 per megawatt-hour – and a guaranteed price, of £140/MWh.

It simply doesn’t work economically.

However, I also think (rather than know) that it won’t work in technical terms either. The think comes from a supposition about the marine environment. I just don’t see mechanical moving parts lasting a couple of decades in the North Sea. Perhaps Mr. Newman can tell us more about rigs n’stuff but I just don’t see it myself.

And one of the things that bolsters this view is that we do actually know why wave power is so damn hard to make functional, let alone economic. That marine environment is, over time, an extremely harsh one, there’s not many materials that outlast it without vast amounts of maintenance.

Now, of course, the engineers and financial charlatans will have taken all of this into account won’t they…….

60 thoughts on “I’m pretty sure this won’t work”

  1. As I understand it there isn’t a single wind farm in the uk that has produced more than 50% of the claimed average power output at planning application time.

  2. I agree the marine environment especially in the North Sea is harsh let alone the corrosion caused by salt

    The problem with long term projects like this is that the dreamers who thought of it will not be around to held to account when it fails

  3. The subsidy is ridiculous and the “market” price is the overnight rate (normal prices are around £48), but from an engineering viewpoint, 65% of the investment is in the connection and support which have design life of 50 years or more. The turbine blades, nacelle etc would be replaced after 25 years. Still doesn’t make it worthwhile.

  4. Yeah, the OPEX will be enormous, mainly because the riggers/vessels/technicians etc. will be drawn from the same pool as those servicing the North Sea rigs. Not so bad when they’re all sitting idle with oil at $30 per barrel, but if the oil price picks up the day-rate of these people and equipment is going to go through the roof.

    I’m not sure how they design the turbine housing to withstand the harsh environment, but the Dutch and Danes have pretty large offshore windfarms. I suspect these will be fine for 5-10 years and then suddenly they’ll hit a wall of maintenance costs which nobody but the government will have the stomach to shoulder.

  5. About two years ago, possibly on the Bishop Hill site, was a story that wind turbines were only lasting about 15 years instead of the anticipated 25. Can’t remember whether that referred to onshore or offshore.

  6. So Much For Subtlety

    Define “work”. I would guess the people doing this think of these projects in terms of 1. getting re-elected and 2. transferring all your money into their bank accounts. The two groups are not entirely mutually exclusive.

    In that sense, I think they will work.

    Myself I suggest we lower our sights. Not think of these as power generators. But rather as large fish protection zones. Would you want to drag six figures worth of net through that lot? In that sense they might turn out to be a very expensive way to have some more herring.

  7. 65% of the investment is in the connection and support which have design life of 50 years or more. The turbine blades, nacelle etc would be replaced after 25 years.

    This seems optimistic. The maximum design life you’ll find in the oil industry is 25 years: engineers simply won’t commit to anything beyond that. Of course, with proper maintenance and overhauls (and sometimes without!) you can extend this to 35, 40, or 50 years but the bits you can treat like this tend to be large lumps of metal and after 25 years look absolutely terrible. Have a look at one of the older North Sea rigs installed in the 1980s (such as the Brae A), it looks like a pile of rusting junk mainly because it is. I can’t see these windmill towers lasting beyond 10-15 years in the North Sea without becoming rusted to hell, and the blades lasting 25 years? No chance. Anyone who’s throwing design lives of 50 years around is selling snake oil.

  8. I assume we have an obligation under various international agreements that we are party to – to source a percentage of our Britain’s energy generation from non-fossil fuel/polluting sources. Global warming, etc. It is a tick box obligation that overrides production costs. I assume – given the government are withdrawing subsidies for solar power – that we now meet our obligation.

  9. Something I’ve never understood properly – if wind power is so terribly important, why not build the turbines on land, where construction and maintenance is presumably far cheaper, as is connection to the grid? If there’s no intention to make them cost competitive, are they just “for show”? I know land-based turbines are unsightly but if they’re genuinely important we could surely stomach that?

  10. The scam has been going on for so long now that I’m sure the perpetrators have ironed out all the creases in The Plan and that these spawn of Hell have been designed and built in the full and certain knowledge that the financial responsibility for them will fall ultimately on me, you and the bloke over there.

    And let us not forget that it was a Government department that took delivery of the first chocolate teapot.

    No, if these things aren’t already subject to a system of rolling maintenance subject to replacement in 7-10 years I’d be pleasantly surprised.

  11. I remember meeting a “wind power entrepreneur” years ago who wanted me to brief him on tidal power. Or maybe it was wave power, the point being that he couldn’t distinguish the two. I hope he was good with money because he hadn’t a bloody clue about physics or engineering.

  12. Not so much an economic objection to large wind farms but an environmental question.
    The article has the size of the projected windfarm as five times the size of Hull. Wiki has Hull at 75km2 so presumably around 350km2. Wiki has the Project 2 phase of hHrnsea at 400km2
    Windfarms generate by intersecting the wind & turning a portion of it into energy. But they’re not 100% efficient. There’s figures quote the efficiency of the the actual turbines as reaching 50% but I’m sure that efficiency is looking at the energy captured from the wind passing through the blade arc.
    But anyone who does aerodynamics knows it’s not that simple. If the turbines are capturing the quoted 1.8GW then there’s another 1.8GW going somewhere. I’d guess in turbulence & mechanical losses. All of those are going to be expressed as heat. So, effectively, you’ve a 1.8KW convector heater stuck out in the middle of the North Sea. Convector, because hot air rises. And that rising hot air will further disturb wind patterns in the area. causing more turbulence & more heat. Up to considerable altitudes.
    Now, it’s very hard to see the difference between this & an equivalent mountain. And , down where I live, you’ve a fine example of what happens if you stick a mountain in front of an airstream. The mountain’s the Sierra Nevadas & the result’s the Desierto de Tabernas. The place they filmed the Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns. Looks more like Arizona than Arizona. Only desert in Europe &, believe me, it is serious desert.
    I tried rehearsing this on an environmental site a couple years back. Got loudly shouted down for my pains. Until someone pointed out there’s research papers dealing with exactly this topic & coming to much the same conclusions. Large windfarms may cause climate change.

  13. Bloke in North Dorset

    TimN,
    Your engineers have it relatively easy, how many constantly moving parts do they have to worry about? I really can’t see the bearings and turbines lasting 25 years in a benign environment let alone in the North Sea, no matter how well they are encapsulated.

    Anecdote alert: I’m having to replace the ignition switch on my boat. When I complained to the locksmith that its only 10 years old he said I was lucky it lasted that long, and it was built for the environment.

  14. @myburningears

    The problem that land based turbines have is that the places you can build them are limited and usually a very long way away from the national grid’s high power network.

  15. @Tim Newman

    ‘I can’t see these windmill towers lasting beyond 10-15 years in the North Sea without becoming rusted to hell’

    How about if they made them out of gold, Tim?

  16. There’s figures quote the efficiency of the the actual turbines as reaching 50% but I’m sure that efficiency is looking at the energy captured from the wind passing through the blade arc.
    But anyone who does aerodynamics knows it’s not that simple. If the turbines are capturing the quoted 1.8GW then there’s another 1.8GW going somewhere.

    The other 1.8GW of energy is what carries the wind on its merry way to wherever. If windmills were 100% efficient you’d have a mass of air building up around it, but at 50% efficiency (which sounds way too high to me) all you’re doing is slowing it down a bit.

  17. Your engineers have it relatively easy, how many constantly moving parts do they have to worry about? I really can’t see the bearings and turbines lasting 25 years in a benign environment let alone in the North Sea, no matter how well they are encapsulated.

    Exactly. It’s why I said the stuff that lasts 25+ years tends to be big lumps of metal (platform jackets, decking, pressure vessels, piping, etc.). The rotating equipment – turbogenerators, compressors, pumps, etc. – requires seriously intensive maintenance (so much so that if you have a compressor on an offshore platform it needs to be “permanently manned”, i.e. you can just run it remotely) and doesn’t last anywhere near 25 years without major overhaul and replacement.

  18. So Much For Subtlety

    Tim Newman – “but at 50% efficiency (which sounds way too high to me) all you’re doing is slowing it down a bit.”

    The obvious point, though, is that energy was going somewhere. It was being used for something else. If you slow the wind down, it is going to have a knock-on effect. Quite what is hard to tell but if you slow it down, it is fairly reasonable to assume it will rain and so reduce rainfall on land. Which, having been to Grimsby, I would think was a benefit for the people of that town.

    It is absurd to think there is an environmentally benign form of power generation. It is a question of how much we will screw with everything else. So many renewables live in this twilight zone of ignorance where we don’t know. As yet.

    Still, the fish probably appreciate it.

  19. The obvious point, though, is that energy was going somewhere. It was being used for something else. If you slow the wind down, it is going to have a knock-on effect.

    Yeah, but I suspect the figures being quoted are bollocks and the amount of wind energy actually captured as a percentage is minuscule.

    Unless the 50% refers to the efficiency of energy actually captured by the blades vs what is turned into electricity. In which case BiS might have a point, although if there is a downside to heating up the North Sea beaches I can’t think of it right now.

  20. Bloke in North Dorset

    I’ve always thought the efficiency figures were about power generation Vs blade speed and duration of turning ie compared to the power generated when the blades are turning at most efficient rate 24 x 7.

    To calculate the amount of wind affected you’d need to work out the area of the windmill, including towers and blades against the overall area covered. Not a simple task given that they are staggered.

    Also, there will also be some 2nd and 3rd order affects on tides, currents and waves which will have an impact on marine life.

  21. “all you’re doing is slowing it down a bit.”
    Says TimN
    FFS Tim, you’re supposed to be the engineer around here. All of that “bit” goes into heat. Hot air rises & disturbs airflows further up. Gliding, you can ride the thermals over a stretch of woodland up at couple thousand meters. And some of that will be turbulence generated heat. Wind in the treetops. (If you’re sheltering from the wind behind a hedge, where do you think the wind energy’s going?)
    I’ve absolutely no idea what the heat generating effects of 3 or 4 hundred square kilometers of windfarm are, but if someone showed it to be 10X the electrical generating capacity, I wouldn’t be the least surprised.

  22. The continental shelf of the UK is Crown property who will collect the leasing cost of this wind farm. Having cancelled the Royal Yacht this maybe Labours way of saying sorry for that dastardly act of treachery.

  23. Here’s a figure for you. A cubic kilometre of air at sea level pressure masses 1,200,000 tonnes. More if you add in the water vapour. Even slowing down that lot a “bit”…..

  24. FFS Tim, you’re supposed to be the engineer around here. All of that “bit” goes into heat.

    No, if you slow down moving air you convert *some* of the kinetic energy into mechanical energy (turning of the blades) and heat (friction of air on the blades plus possibly some compression effects). I am doubtful that heat will amount to much. Making a fluid flow more turbulent doesn’t in itself generate heat (at least I don’t remember any forumula to this effect from my Fluid Mechanics classes, but then I was shit at that).

  25. Friends in Civil Engineering have passed on rumours that some off-shore turbines are already having their supporting columns replaced because the anti-corrosive properties of the Chinese steel used in their construction weren’t quite ‘as advertised’.

    Who was it said: “Buy cheap, pay twice”?

  26. “the continental shelf of the UK is Crown property”: it’s terribly sweet to think that that means it’s Her Majesty’s. All it means is that it’s the government’s. Just the way that Federal land in the US isn’t Mr Obama’s.

  27. The theoretical limit on the efficiency of a wind turbine (the “Betz Limit”) is 16/27, which is 59%. That’s the proportion of upstream wind power extracted by an idealized turbine. It corresponds to a downstream wind velocity of 1/3 of the upstream velocity (which is where the rest of the available power goes).

    In practice efficiencies approaching 50% can be achieved in ideal conditions.

    This is separate from consideration of load factor – the average power output divided by nameplate power. You might get a load factor of a third from a new offshore wind farm, which is higher than onshore because the wind’s more reliable. Danish experience is that offshore load factor falls off badly with age. It’s possible that they’ve made some of the beginners’ errors for us.

  28. Danish experience is that offshore load factor falls off badly with age. It’s possible that they’ve made some of the beginners’ errors for us.

    According to a guy who used to run the wind power arm of a supermajor that I happen to know very well, the problems associated with modern windmills are much the same as those of Dutch windmills from several centuries ago. Which is why the supermajor got out of wind power and invested more in solar.

  29. While we are talking money, lets not forget the lives that will be lost trying to maintain, repair and keep the off-shore wind-wankery going.

  30. “While we are talking money, lets not forget the lives that will be lost trying to maintain, repair and keep the off-shore wind-wankery going.”

    This is actually a good point. Wind power is quite dangerous (lots of working at height, one of the riskiest things you can do), in the same way that coal power is dangerous (because coal mining is quite dangerous).

  31. To take this the full ecological circle: will subsonic sound generated by offshore windmills damage the hearing of the animals that launched the green imagination, dolphins and whales? All those dead humpbacks, did they pass too close to a windfarm?

  32. To take this the full ecological circle: will subsonic sound generated by offshore windmills damage the hearing of the animals that launched the green imagination, dolphins and whales?

    That’s a good point. We had Greenpeace assuring us that the rumbling of bulldozers onshore Sakhalin was causing the Pacific grey whales to stop breeding. But no concern about offshore wind farms?

  33. “Making a fluid flow more turbulent doesn’t in itself generate heat”
    Yes it does. Friction. Friction between air molecules & compressive effects.. Thus more energy is needed to move a liquid in turbulent flow than laminar flow, for the same velocity. Hence if turbulence reduces the velocity, the energy must come out as heat.

  34. Yes it does. Friction. Friction between air molecules & compressive effects.. Thus more energy is needed to move a liquid in turbulent flow than laminar flow, for the same velocity. Hence if turbulence reduces the velocity, the energy must come out as heat.

    I think you’d probably find this effect is negligible. Certainly, it’s not considered by the process engineers in the industrial processes I get involved with. Also, the same would be the case when a wind coming from the sea hits land, especially a forest or cliff. Do we notice temperature increases? Not really.

  35. Agree with Tim N and SJW
    What is the distance between windmills? What is the width of the blade? What is the height/depth (equal in this case) of a body of air moved by wind? So what is the %age of the wind that actually impacts on the blade of a windmill? Answer 0.00 – oh, sorry, but that’s it rounded to the nearest .01%.
    I don’t need to be an engineer to work that out.

  36. Does anyone know how many people there are in the world who are willing to ascend a vertical tower 500 feet high, possibly in the middle of a gale, to repair a windmill? And how much do they charge?

    My unresearched guesses would be about 50 and £100,000 per hour.

  37. BiS. Windmills are basically heat engines. From the first law of thermodynamics, conservation of energy states that energy can be neither created or destroyed. It can however be changed from one type of energy to another. So the wind goes into the turbines at one speed and temperature, drives the turbines round thereby imparting energy to the generator. It comes out at a new speed and temperature. It is basically at a lower energy coming out of the turbine blades. That loss of energy is what goes into the grid minus any losses between the blades and the point the electricity reaches the grid. So someone down stream of the windmill array will find the wind is less and the temperature is colder. Meanwhile the electricity produced has been used to cool the beer in my fridge.

  38. To Diogenes.
    I don’t do any inspections on windmills myself but colleagues do. They get no more than any other person to do the job and for ones in the seas, you have to do the survival courses that the guys on the oil rigs do.
    So the answer to your question is between about £33K to £42K per year.
    BUT you would wait for the weather to be a bit more benign. No heroes at these jobs.

  39. @Daedalus @ ors
    I don’t necessarily disagree with you about what’s happening in the immediate vicinity of the turbine blades. (Although I find the concept of slower moving & thus higher pressure airflow falling in temperature rather novel). But wind turbines aren’t 100% efficient. The blades have drag. The towers have drag. The wind doesn’t just pass through the blade arc with the electrical energy neatly extracted. Any more than an aircraft or a car passes through the air without producing a wake. There’ll be tip vortices off the blades, vortices rolling off behind the towers. All of this will be interacting with the airflow that hasn’t been disturbed by the turbine. If, as you say, the airflow downstream of the turbine is slowed there’ll be boundary effects with the higher velocity uninterrupted wind. This is the sort of things aircraft have to deal with & why they have bloody great engines consuming oodles of energy to keep them aloft.
    It’s just aerodynamics run backwards. The air that’s moving rather than the aircraft. Energy coming out, rather than being put in.
    And, as you say, you can’t destroy energy. Tim N’s wind, hitting a cliff, does indeed lose velocity by exchanging it for heat. You can even calculate the energy by simply multiplying the mass of air by the acceleration.
    I haven’t the vaguest what secondary effects are produced by 400 km2 of wind farm but I’d be surprised if they were trivial.


  40. I don’t do any inspections on windmills myself but colleagues do. They get no more than any other person to do the job and for ones in the seas, you have to do the survival courses that the guys on the oil rigs do.
    So the answer to your question is between about £33K to £42K per year.

    Way more. I know these guys. They’re day-rate contractors. About £400-600 per day, perhaps more. But they’d not climb up in a gale.

  41. So Much For Subtlety

    Daedalus – “So someone down stream of the windmill array will find the wind is less and the temperature is colder. Meanwhile the electricity produced has been used to cool the beer in my fridge.”

    And the people it is likely to affect the most are not people but plants and animals. They are actually using the environment before we start messing with it. Reducing wind speed is likely to have an affect on birds first of all. A lot of them use it. It is likely to have an impact on plant dispersal. It is likely to change wave and current patterns.

    Whether this matters is another thing. After all, there is vastly more energy in the system than we will ever use. It may even be a good thing. But it is something we should think about. The main result of this wind farm is, as I said, likely to be a protecting fisheries zone. Which means more fish. Which means more birds hanging around. Which means more birds sliced and diced by the turbine blades.

    Of course for the fun part – what is the effect of a cooling tower on an arid climate like California?

  42. Tim Newman,

    I have ideas or opinions of any merit regarding off shore wind, but thoroughly appreciate your thoughtful comments.

  43. @daedalus
    So someone down stream of the windmill array will find the wind is less and the temperature is colder.

    Wind less, yes, ageed.

    But i can’t help but think that it will also be warmer. The wind will have lost laminar kinetic energy and only some of that goes into electricity, most of the rest into turbulent kinetic energy and heat.

    The whole system has less energy (electrical energy has been ‘piped’ away), so it could be cooler, but somehow i wonder that it will be net ‘slower and warmer’. I just can’t see how the system would lose heat energy, only how it would lose laminar kinetic energy.

    SJW mentions the air becoming cooler due to expansion, dunno about that, maybe some other blogger knows something about that?

  44. “What is the distance between windmills?”

    Not sure but I think it varies upward from at least three times the diameter depending on the area they’re sited in.

  45. Having re-read the thread and thought about it, I conclude that of all the reasons to oppose building offshore windfarms, altering the local climate is probably one of the weakest.

    There has been a colossal wind farm in California for years. We build enormous structures willy-nilly everywhere. There are all sorts of natural and not-so-natural objects which would have the same effect on the wind. Yet thus far, a problem has yet to rear its head. I don’t even think the engineers who design the things give a toss either, any more than we give a toss whether our offshore platforms will affect the sea-state.

    I think I’ll stick to the more conventional arguments against wind power: it doesn’t generate enough electricity per turbine, it is being driven by politicians and idiots, the maintenance costs are prohibitive, the decommissioning costs will not be considered, etc. if we start conjuring up scenarios of temperature changes, we’ll be dismissed as cranks.

    The effect on whales is an interesting one, though. Although I’d say the effects would be negligible, they might be worth studying.

  46. So Much For Subtlety

    Hornsea Two will cover 400 square kilometres and generate “up to” 1.8 GW.

    On average 1369 Watts per square metre of solar energy hits the Earth. A lot less that far north admittedly. That is 1369 Megawatts per square kilometre. Or about 500 GW for all 400 square kilometres.

    Assuming I have not made an elementary calculating mistake.

    Even if these worked as well as they claim, they are not taking a lot of energy out of the system. Although what they will mostly do is slice birds into pieces.

  47. Studies of the effect of wind farms on downstream weather suggest that there’s warming during the night and cooling during the day. Presumably this is because the biggest effect is vertical mixing due to turbulence.

    Danish studies of offshore wind farms suggest that harbour porpoises are put off by construction noise but not significantly by operating noise.

  48. Studies of the effect of wind farms on downstream weather suggest

    That last word suggests the studies should be put straight in the bin.

    Presumably this is because the biggest effect is vertical mixing due to turbulence.

    Doubtful in the extreme.

  49. I don’t think the windmills have any significant effect on either air temperature or wind patterns. But, the turbulence from one windmill does affect the wind available to those adjacent. So a ‘farm’ of windmills may not be as effective as the sum of individual windmills would suggest.

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