United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Collaboration 'key to reducing impact of offshore wind on UK radar systems'

Industry, government and the military working together to ensure offshore wind farms and air defence systems can co-exist

The panel discussing how wind and aviation can co-exist at the Global Offshore Wind conference
The panel discussing how wind and aviation can co-exist at the Global Offshore Wind conference

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Collaboration will be key to enabling the happy co-existence of the growing offshore wind industry and the air defence sector, according to panellists at RenewableUK’s Global Offshore Wind conference.

Members of the UK offshore wind industry, the military and government are working together to test technological solutions to reduce wind farms’ interference with air defence radar systems.

This, in turn, could prevent the military objecting to new offshore wind farm developments, panellists explained.

The Air Defence and Offshore Wind Mitigation Task Force brings together UK wind industry group the Offshore Wind Industry Council (OWIC), seabed landlord the Crown Estate, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Ministry of Defence (MOD).

They are yet to decide how costs would be shared, and where mitigation technology would be located – whether on existing offshore wind infrastructure or elsewhere – but panellists remained optimistic that they would find solutions to these issues.

Paul Cooley, director of capital projects at SSE Renewables, said that he believed any costs would be “tolerable” and that the cooperation with the military would help developers complete projects without additional permitting difficulties.

Panellists remained tight-lipped about the specific technologies being trialled, but air vice-marshal Linc Taylor from the Royal Air Force (RAF) described some of them as “really promising”. 

Taylor represents the RAF on the industry-government-military task force, and explained the challenge the military faces with offshore wind: “We’ve got a task to defend the UK from any adversaries coming at us. We have a responsibility to make sure all our airspace is safe. 

“However, these blades spin round at a hell of a rate and they look, to a radar, like a target. But that wind farm is not always running at the same speed. It changes, and that affects our radar.”

Evolving relationship

Taylor said that the military’s attitude to offshore wind was changing – from previously seeing it as disruptive to radar systems, to now wanting to accommodate it where possible. 

“When we get asked, ‘Can we put in more offshore wind?’ the answer shouldn’t be a no. It should be, ‘How do we make the answer yes?’” Taylor added. 

“Whether that is co-financing or co-development of technology, there are things we are looking at now.”

Fiona Mettam, deputy director for renewable energy at BEIS, said that the UK government raising its targets for offshore wind – to 40GW by 2030 – means the scale and speed now required of the industry must lead to past difficulties being overcome.

However, she added: “This work is not just a reflection of the increased ambition for renewable energy. It’s also a reflection of a huge amount of cross-government and cross-industry willpower to make this commitment feasible and take practical steps to deliver it.”

By working together, the groups hope to be able to streamline project permitting and development by eliminating obstacles and minimising military objections to wind farms.

Will Apps, head of energy development at seabed landlord the Crown Estate said: “We need to plan in the compromise before we create the clash.”

Meanwhile, SSE’s Cooley added: “Offshore development is a world of various degrees of uncertainty. It’s about narrowing down the level of risk and uncertainty as early as possible.”

Next steps

The next steps will be around developing principles for cost-sharing for the mitigation solution. The group hopes to have principle in place before the UK’s next contracts for difference (CfD) tender is launched in December 2021

“I don’t think cost-sharing is an easy challenge to address, but with a platform and mechanism for co-operation and collaboration, we have a really good place to have that difficult conversation,” BEIS’s Mettam added.

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