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United Kingdom

United Kingdom

One online last year and another due soon -- Eventful year behind-the-scenes

Just one offshore wind farm was installed in the UK in 2005, but at 90 MW, Kentish Flats is the largest of the three so far built in British waters -- and the first built by Danish utility Elsam outside its home market. Kentish Flats is made up of 30 Vestas 3 MW turbines on a flat shallow plateau in the Thames Estuary, eight kilometres off the coast. It brings UK offshore capacity to 212 MW.

After the trail blazing rush of large offshore wind farm development off Danish and British coasts in the early years of this decade the pace has dramatically slowed. But two projects are due for completion this year and several hundred megawatt looks certain to go-ahead in the following years

Just one offshore wind farm was installed in the UK in 2005, but at 90 MW, Kentish Flats is the largest of the three so far built in British waters -- and the first built by Danish utility Elsam outside its home market. Kentish Flats is made up of 30 Vestas 3 MW turbines on a flat shallow plateau in the Thames Estuary, eight kilometres off the coast. It brings UK offshore capacity to 212 MW.

On the other side of the country and to the north, work began in 2005 on constructing the 90 MW Barrow Offshore wind farm in the east Irish Sea. A 50-50 joint venture between British energy company Centrica and Danish Offshore Oil and Natural Gas, it will also consist of 30 Vestas 3 MW turbines and is expected to begin operation in the first half of 2006.

Elsewhere, there was plenty of activity despite little to show for it in terms of megawatts installed. After bitter experiences by two different developers of failed tendering rounds for turnkey contractors, the engineer, procure and construct (EPC) model of contracting for offshore wind was declared dead. A lengthy tendering process for Robin Rigg in the north Irish Sea left developer E.ON UK having to go back to the market to re-tender after preferred contractor Vestas pulled back from the 200 MW project. Likewise, Centrica was left with nothing to show for its tendering process for its Lynn and Inner Dowsing projects when Siemens got cold feet at the eleventh hour just before the turnkey contract was to have been closed. After these costly debacles, nearly all offshore developers are now opting to go the multi-contracting route, which spreads risks more evenly through the supply chain.

Tendering activity is currently taking place in connection with Robin Rigg, Lynn and Inner Dowsing, npower's Rhyl Flats wind farm, Eclipse Energy's Ormonde hybrid gas and wind project, as well as with second round projects Greater Gabbard and Thanet Offshore.

Another 2550 MW

Meantime, work on projects in the second round of larger UK offshore wind farms further out to sea continues. Four applications for consents totalling 2550 MW were lodged last year. Three are in the outer Thames Estuary off south-east England: London Array, at 1000 MW comprising 270 turbines and being developed by a consortium of Shell, E.ON and CORE; Warwick Energy's Thanet Offshore wind farm, a 300 MW project with up to 100 turbines; and Airtricity and Fluor's 500 MW Greater Gabbard project of 140 turbines. The fourth is Gwynt y Môr off north Wales: 250 turbines for 750 MW being developed by RWE subsidiary npower renewables. Decisions on some of these projects are expected this year.

In addition to Barrow coming online, work will start this year on building the 90 MW Burbo wind farm in Liverpool Bay in the north-west. This project is 100% owned by Elsam after the company bought out EDF Energies Nouvelles in November. Siemens is to supply 25, 3.6 MW machines and the wind farm is expected to be operational in summer 2007.

A regulatory regime for the UK offshore wind business was expected to be announced last month. This will determine ownership of the wires to connect second round projects into the UK grid system and how the costs of offshore transmission will be recovered. But whatever the market structure, it will not be the silver bullet that makes round two offshore wind farms viable, warns Gordon Edge of the British Wind Energy Association. "It will help, but for additional support for offshore wind we will have to wait for the results of the [government's] energy review," he says. The review team is due to report this summer.

In Ireland, development of offshore wind appears to have ground to a halt. The industry had hoped for provision for offshore projects in the government's new "feed-in" support mechanism for renewables. But the EUR 0.057 tariff for large wind would not be enough to support offshore projects.

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