Saturday, 9 January 2010

Dash for wind power leaves Britain with £15bn funding blackhole

Ben Webster, Environment Editor, and Raf Sanchez
Britain's electricity network is not ready to cope with a plan announced today to massively expand offshore wind generation, experts have claimed.
A 'Super Grid', the first stage of which would cost £10-15bn to build, would be needed before the country's electricity network could deal with the huge peaks associated with wind power.
The Crown Estate today announced nine sites around Britain for wind power generation with the aim of producing up to 32 gigawatts - enough to power 20 million homes - from 6,400 offshore turbines.
But those close to the project warned that generating capacity was leaping ahead of plans to distribute the power.

Eddie O'Connor, chief executive of Mainsteam Renewables which today won the right to develop one of the biggest offshore windpower zones off the coast of Lincolnshire, said: "Britain has created an enormous lead in offshore wind but if there is a weakness it is in the grids built so far.
"If we are going to deliver on our vision for northern Europe we do need a 'Super Grid' and we really haven't seen coherent plans yet emerging from the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
"We can't deliver on the 32 gigawatts without seeing the 'Super Grid'."
The 'Super Grid' would work by linking the electricity networks of Britain, Germany, Norway and Denmark to allow the power generated on windy days to be distributed across the countries.
On days when there is excess capacity the energy could stored or used to pump water at hydroelectric sites to create generating capacity when the wind drops.
Mr O'Connor added that a lobbying body pushing for the creation of the 'Super Grid' would be formed in March - it is to be called "Friends of the Super Grid".
It is unclear how the super grid will be financed and how much each country would contribute to what would eventually be a pan-European network of undersea cables.
The companies building the new wind farms would contribute a substantial proportion of the cost but they themselves will be supported by public subsidies for wind power paid for by homes and businesses through higher energy bills.

Mr O'Connor said the 'Super Grid' would be developed in stages and cost 750 billion Euros by 2050, when it would carry 40 per cent of Europe's electricity.
Gordon Brown said the world’s biggest expansion of offshore wind power, costing £75 billion, would create up to 70,000 jobs in Britain by 2020.
However, the Government has failed to persuade any of the major wind turbine manufacturers to open a factory in Britain and none of the companies granted licences today will be obliged to source any parts from domestic manufacturers. Most are expected to buy turbines made in Denmark or Germany.
A taskforce of officials from Downing Street, the Treasury and the business and energy departments has held talks with suppliers in recent months including Siemens, Vestas, Mitsubishi and General Electric, but none is yet willing to commit to manufacturing in Britain.

The country’s only turbine blade manufacturer — the Vestas factory on the Isle of Wight — closed last summer after the company said that the British market for turbines had been too slow to develop.
Almost all the manufacturing contracts for London Array, the biggest wind farm in British waters approved before today, have been awarded overseas. Less than 10 per cent of the £1.7 billion investment will be spent in Britain. Clipper Windpower is developing one of the world’s biggest turbines at a research centre in Blyth, Northumberland, but it is several years away from starting commercial production.
The nine farms announced will generate enough electricity to power more than half of Britain’s homes, but only when the wind blows. The Government has said windpower has the potential to meet more than a quarter of Britain’s energy needs.
The turbines will be twice as large as those on land, typically rising 170m (557ft) from sea level to the tip of the blade. They will stand in up to 70m of water, compared with only 10-25m for existing offshore turbines.
They will also be much farther away from the coast, with the biggest, Dogger Bank, starting 130 miles off the North East coast. Residential platforms will be built near the turbines to accommodate hundreds of workers who will carry out servicing and repairs. Construction on each of the nine sites is expected to begin between 2013 and 2015.
The developers, which include E.ON, RWE Npower, Scottish Power and Centrica, have pledged to build enough turbines to create 25,000 megawatts of electricity, the equivalent of 21 Sizewell B nuclear power stations. There are currently 228 offshore turbines with a capacity of 688 megawatts.
The timetable for the construction will depend on how quickly the finance can be raised and what happens to the price of the fossil fuels with which wind energy competes. None of the farms is likely to be generating electricity before 2015.
The British Wind Energy Association said yesterday that the cost of building wind turbines had doubled in recent years, partly because of the fall in the value of sterling and a growing reliance on imports. Each megawatt of wind capacity announced today will cost up to £3.1 million, compared with £1.5 million for the first offshore wind farms approved a decade ago.
John Sauven, director of Greenpeace UK, said: “The Government’s role is clear: train and equip Britain’s workforce to ensure that the thousands of jobs that will be created are filled by British workers, and provide the economic certainty investors need to complete these projects on time and on budget.”

£75bn for UK's biggest offshore wind programme signals new era for renewables

Crown Estate has revealed successful bidders for nine windfarm sites expected to create tens of thousands of new jobs and help the UK meet clean energy and carbon emission targets

Alok Jha, green technology correspondent, Friday 8 January 2010 11.57 GMT
The UK government announced a £75bn programme today to build thousands of offshore wind turbines that will kickstart the next phase of renewable power generation in Britain.
The Crown Estate revealed the successful bidders for at least 25GW of windfarms across nine zones in the seas around the UK.
The nine winning bidders are: Moray Offshore Renewables Ltd, SeaGreen Wind Energy Ltd, the Forewind Consortium equally owned by each of SSE Renewables, RWE Npower Renewables, Statoil and Statkraft, Siemens Project Ventures and Mainstream Renewable Power, East Anglia Offshore Wind Ltd equally owned by Scottish Power Renewables and Vattenfall Vindkraft, Eon Climate and Renewables UK, Eneco New Energy, RWE Npower Renewables and Centrica Renewable Energy and involving RES Group.
The developments could create tens of thousands of new jobs, which will be crucial if the UK is to meet its targets for clean energy and carbon emission cuts.
Gordon Brown said: "This new round of licences provides a substantial new platform for investing in UK industrial capacity. The offshore wind industry is at the heart of the UK economy's shift to low carbon and could be worth £75bn and support up to 70,000 jobs by 2020."
The UK has the biggest wind resource in Europe – some estimates put the UK's share at one-third of the continent's total. Secretary of state for energy Ed Miliband said: "Today's news shows we're creating the right conditions for the energy industry to invest in harnessing it." Taking advantage of the country's potential wind power will be critical in meeting the targets set by government for the UK to meet 15% of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020.
Round three will be the biggest wind programme announced by the Crown Estate so far and aims to accelerate the deployment of wind energy on a massive scale.
The nine sites in line for development include Dogger Bank, the Bristol Channel, the seas off Norfolk and the Firth of Forth. The proposed windfarms will be further away from the coast and in deeper waters than any existing offshore project, and therefore more challenging to build.
According to Greenpeace, Britain already leads the world in the deployment of offshore wind and has more projects installed, in planning or in construction than any other country. Almost 700MW of offshore turbines are already installed across nine projects, with around another 1.2GW under construction and a further 3.5GW in planning stages. By comparison, a large coal-fired power station generates about 1GW of electricity.
In advance of today's announcement, Greenpeace executive director, John Sauven, said: "Throughout its history Britain has shown the determination and ingenuity to tackle the great industrial challenges of each era. In the 21st century these qualities are being called on once again, to enable the transition from fossil fuels to clean, renewable sources of energy. Our country is home to some of the best engineers, mechanics and construction professionals in the world. Their expertise will be crucial if we are to harness the massive potential that new technologies like offshore wind have to offer."
The winning consortia will face several challenges, including a lack of offshore connections to the national electricity grid and limited capacity in the supply and installation chain for windfarms. "The scale of round three will require a dramatic increase in manufacturing capacity for offshore wind, such as turbines, foundations, offshore electrics and installation vessels," said the British Wind Energy Association. It estimates that more than 55,000 jobs could be created in the planning, construction and maintenance of the thousands of wind turbines that will be built in the next decade.
However, Britain currently has no commercial-scale wind turbine manufacturing plants, following the closure of the Vestas plant on the Isle of Wight last year.
Another issue is that existing subsidies for offshore wind are only guaranteed until 2014, but very few of the round three projects will have begun operating by then.
The winning developers
• Moray Firth Zone, Moray Offshore Renewables Ltd which is 75% owned by EDP Renovaveis and 25% owned by SeaEnergy Renewables – 1.3 GW• Firth of Forth Zone, SeaGreen Wind Energy Ltd equally owned by SSE Renewables and Fluor – 3.5 GW• Dogger Bank Zone, the Forewind Consortium equally owned by each of SSE Renewables, RWE Npower Renewables, Statoil and Statkraft – 9 GW• Hornsea Zone, Siemens Project Ventures and Mainstream Renewable Power, a consortium equally owned by Mainstream Renewable Power and Siemens Project Ventures and involving Hochtief Construction – 4 GW• Norfolk Bank Zone, East Anglia Offshore Wind Ltd equally owned by Scottish Power Renewables and Vattenfall Vindkraft – 7.2 GW• Hastings Zone, Eon Climate and Renewables UK – 0.6 GW• West of Isle of Wight Zone, Eneco New Energy – 0.9 GW• Bristol Channel Zone, RWE Npower Renewables, the UK subsidiary of RWE Innogy – 1.5 GW• Irish Sea Zone, Centrica Renewable Energy and involving RES Group – 4.2 GW

UK plans for most ambitious offshore wind project in the world will need 'supergrid'

Britain will have to be connected to a 'supergrid' with northern Europe to realise Gordon Brown's plans to provide more than a quarter of electricity needs from offshore wind.

By Louise Gray, Environment CorrespondentPublished: 7:00AM GMT 09 Jan 2010

More than 6,000 turbines will be built around the coast of Britain. Photo: Reuters
The most ambitious offshore wind project in the world would see 6,400 turbines built around the coast by 2020 – the equivalent of building almost two turbines every day for the next ten years.
In the most significant boost for industry in the UK since the exploration of North Sea oil in the 1970s, the Prime Minister announced the power companies that will raise around £100bn to construct the new turbines including major players like E. ON, RWE Npower, Scottish Power and Centrica.

The turbines will be built in nine zones including sites in the Irish Sea, the Bristol Channel, the Moray Firth, the Firth of Forth, off the coast of Norfolk and west of the Isle of Wight. Construction could begin by 2013.
Mr Brown said the project could provide 32GW of power, enough to meet more than a quarter of the country's electricity needs and replace the power lost as ageing coal and nuclear plants close down.
But energy companies have warned that the only way to transport the electricity to land is to build a massive "supergrid" in the North Sea with Denmark, Germany and Norway. The multi-billion pound grid will also deal with the peaks and troughs caused by the intermittent nature of wind by spreading the supply of energy across a greater area when the wind blows and taking advantage from back up supplies when it is still.
Energy experts also said the UK will need to build a "gigantic new harbour", somewhere like the Humber Estuary, to deal with the equipment needed to build the turbines as well as new boats and an apprenticeship programme to deal with the skills shortage in engineering.
However Mr Brown was confident that Britain could provide the infrastructure to unlock "one of the great untapped resources of the world".
In a bid to boost his industry credentials before the election, the Labour leader said the Government would encourage manufacturers to build component parts in Britain, invest in research and construct the necessary equipment like new ports.
"Our policies in support of offshore wind energy have already put us ahead of every other country in the whorl," he said. "This new round of licences provides a substantial new platform for investing in UK industrial capacity.
"The offshore wind industry is at the heart of the UK economy's shift to low carbon and could be worth £75 billion and support up to 70,000 jobs by 2020."
Eddie O' Connor, Chief Executive of Mainstream Renewable Power, one of the companies that will be building turbines, said the UK will also have to be part or a "supergrid" with the rest of Europe to transport the energy to shore. The network, made up of thousands of miles of highly efficient undersea cables, would initially be a basic connection with other countries off the North Sea to enable the wind power to start flowing from 2020. Eventually it could spread across the whole of northern Europe and cost hundreds of billions of pounds.
Mr O'Conner was confident the wind industry could deliver in "record time" as long as the necessary infrastructure is in place.
"To see this vision realised we need a commitment to a new supergrid, the skills shortage needs to be addressed and we need a gigantic new harbour," he said.
The UK Government is in discussion with other European countries, including France, Ireland and Sweden, about setting up the supergrid.
Energy companies, environment groups and trade unions as a whole welcomed the announcement as an opportunity to boost manufacturing and jobs whilst helping the UK meet climate change targets to cut emissions from fossil fuels.
However there were concerns over the cost of the project, especially as energy companies are heavily indebted and subsidies for wind are not laid out until 2020. After Britain's only wind turbine plant, Vestas on the Isle of Wight, closed last year there were also concerns jobs would go abroad because of a lack of capacity.
Dr Neil Bentley, CBI Director of Business Environment, said wind development could be as important as North Sea oil to the economy - if it is done right.
“Although the development of the UK’s offshore wind market could potentially create huge opportunities, there are a number of supply chain challenges," he said. "These include the shortage of skilled engineers, ramping up turbine manufacturing capacity to meet demand, and getting the turbines connected to the grid.”
Nick Rau, Friends of the Earth's renewable energy campaigner, said the Government must do more to support green technology.
"Plans to build thousands of offshore turbines are fantastic news – but the Government must do more to develop the UK's vast wind energy potential and ensure that Britain reaps the benefits of creating thousands of new green jobs," he said.
Greg Clark, Tory spokesman on energy and climate change, said much of the manufacturing will go abroad.
"Offshore wind can make a significant contribution to reducing our carbon emissions and providing home-grown energy," he said.
“Labour’s boasts about green jobs ring hollow however as much of the money will be spent overseas.
“Britain has some of the best natural resources in the world for wave, tidal and wind power but Labour’s lack of action on renewable energy means that Britain has lost its leading position and is now losing jobs and business too.”

'Climate change resistant crops' move nearer after gene breakthrough

Crops resistant to climate change have come a step closer after British scientists discovered the key gene which allows plants to react to temperatures around them.

Published: 7:30AM GMT 08 Jan 2010
In a breakthrough that has the potential to help feed billions of people, scientists from the John Innes Centre in Norwich have found the "thermometer gene" which plants use to sense temperature.
Laboratory tests on a mustard seed plant showed that the gene that plants use in order to know when to grow in the warmer months can be manipulated by taking away a histone protein.
The protein normally binds to DNA and wraps it around them which then controls which genes are turned on.
When the histone protein was taken away from plants, all the genes in the plants reacted as if they were experiencing high temperatures even when the temperature in the lab was turned down very low.
The findings could pave the way for climate change resistant crops within 10 years.
The new super crops would be able to cope with the increased heat expected as the earth's temperature rises and the research could also help grow plants in much colder climates.
Dr Philip Wigge, one of the researchers, said the discovery, published in the journal Cell, was groundbreaking.
"Climate change will have a huge effect on crop productivity and that's something we feel gives added impetus to our research," he said.
"By 2030 the world will need to increase global food production by 50 per cent as population grows and people expect a higher standard of living.
"Wheat and rice, which provide most of the world's calories, are sensitive to high heat during their growing process.
"Now we understand how plants modify temperatures we can modify how we grow plants in high temperatures."