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Wind aids Falkland Islands growth

The 1982 Falkland Islands conflict between Great Britain and Argentina brought the existence of the South Atlantic islands to the attention of many for the first time. Twenty years later, the windswept and isolated islands have moved from the front page to the business pages, as they experience a period of unprecedented economic growth, based mainly on squid fishing and wool.

Parallel to the economic growth is the Falkland's renewable energy growth. More than 60 small wind turbines have been installed there since the Falkland government secured funding in 1996 from the EU's Stabilisation of Export scheme (STABEX).

Each rural wind system consists of three main components: a 2.5 kW wind turbine, made by Proven of Scotland; a Powercenter SW series inverter charger, made by Trace of Washington state, US; and a lead acid traction battery, made by Chloride of England. The systems each cost $21,000 per farm for turnkey installation, of which each farm pays 39-50%. The wind turbines offset 50-80% of diesel generation costs. Since diesel is uneconomic to run 24 hours a day, the systems bring round-the-clock power supply a step nearer.

Although the small and dispersed 2500 population of the Falklands means that a grid is not feasible for all the islands' territory, one is in place in Stanley, the capital. Wind could easily meet the 3 MW demand, but large wind turbines are not generally designed to be operated as a major single power contributor, says the energy advisory officer of the Falkland Islands Development Corporation (FIDC), Tim Cotter. They need to be connected to a much larger power system for stability and to buffer power surges, he adds. "The technology gap is getting wider as wind turbines are getting bigger," believes Cotter.

"It is unclear at this stage how these technical problems can be effectively addressed for modest power systems such as ours," Cotter continues. While this technological impasse remains in place, the FIDC keeps a 25% maximum for all wind plans for Stanley, which to date does not have any wind power and relies on a 6.6 MW diesel plant. Possible solutions were set to be discussed last month, and while senior officials fear a financial risk with a wind plant, Cotter believes one is feasible. Average wind speeds in the Falklands are 8 m/s.

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