Wind Turbine Lifespans Surpass Expectations

Last week a report published by the Imperial College revealed that the operational lifespan of wind turbines may be longer than had been previously believed.

The new study demonstrates that wind turbines remain productive in generating electricity for at least 25 years. Previously it had been claimed by some that it would be necessary to upgrade installed wind turbines to allow them to continue generating power for a quarter century. This belief formed the basis of the argument that wind turbines had a limited lifespan of use compared to other forms of renewable energy generation technology.

The United Kingdom currently has over 500 wind farms installed across the country as well as a significant number of smaller scale turbine developments. This capacity base is already meeting a minimum of 7.5% of the country’s energy demand. From this installed base the Imperial College’s Business School analyzed data from 4,246 turbines across the country. Analyzing this information together with wind speed data provided by NASA (collected over a twenty year period) demonstrated that wind turbines are more than capable of lasting their full 25 year lifespan without requiring any upgrade work.

The study also revealed that the oldest operational wind turbines in the United Kingdom, installed in the mid-1990’s, are still producing  three quarters of their original output despite having been in use for that last nineteen years. The three quarter figure is almost twice the level of output which these turbines had previously been assumed to be capable of at this point in time. These 19 year old wind turbines are fully expected to continue generating power for at least the next six years, meeting the promise of a twenty-five year lifespan and making such already outdated wind turbine models comparable in lifespan to the gas turbines found in conventional power plants.

Given that more modern wind turbines inevitably make use of improvements in both design and technology, and as such perform better in age, the report argues that modern wind turbines can be expected to have an operational lifespan beyond twenty-five years without requiring any upgrade work. The researchers and scientists who produced the report emphasised that their findings strengthened the case of wind turbines being a strong long term investment.

Dr Iain Staffell,  research fellow at the Imperial College’s Business School and co-author of the report commented:

“Wind farms are an important source of renewable energy. In contrast, our dwindling supply of fossil fuels leaves the UK vulnerable to price fluctuations and with a costly import bill.

“However, in the past it has been difficult for investors to work out whether wind farms are an attractive investment.

“Our study provides some certainty, helping investors to see that wind farms are an effective long-term investment and a viable way to help the UK tackle future energy challenges.”

Professor Richard Green, head of the Business School’s Department of Management and co-author of the report stated:

“There have been concerns about the costs of maintaining ageing wind farms and whether they are worth investing in. This study gives a ‘thumbs up’ to the technology and shows that renewable energy is an asset for the long term.”

Whilst other studies have been published in this area previously the Business School report made use of far more accurate and specific data than any previous attempt. The wind speed data provided by NASA was gathered over a twenty year period and allowed researchers to calculate precise wind speeds at individual wind farm sites. Previous studies were limited by their use of average estimated national wind speeds and as such have now been superseded.

In news this week it has been revealed that a proposed wind farm in Perthshire will bring significant ecological and conservationist benefits if it is successful in gaining planning permission.

Developers behind the proposed Bandirran Wind Firm have laid out a series of ecological improvement measures which will be carried out in the event of gaining planning consent. Firstly a series of ‘nectar margins’ around the site. These flower rich areas provide an ideal habitat and breeding ground for a variety of insect species including bees and butterflies. Secondly wooded areas near to the wind farm development would be enhanced and enlarged according to Forestry Commission guidelines. Thirdly 260 meters of new hedgerows would be created through the planting of species such as hawthorn, hazel, dog rose and blackthorn. Hedgerows are a vital habitat for a diverse range of species but one that is becoming increasingly reduced in modern times. Fourthly, the restoration of heather to the development sites surrounding moorland. And lastly the creation of a dedicated area for curlew; a species of wading bird which has been granted conservation status. This area would be an ideal habitat as well as breeding area and developers have pledged to monitor breeding numbers for a period of at least five years.

Mark Bates, director of Ecology at Heritage Environment Ltd. led an extensive survey of the development site who determine the best course of action to take to enhance the area’s plant and animal life remarked:

“The measures we have identified will actually improve, diversify and add to the habitats currently on the site and provide direct and indirect benefits to a wide range of wildlife. They will also help in achieving both local and national biodiversity targets.”

Colin Anderson, development director at Banks Renewables, made the following statement:

“We have worked closely with groups, businesses and residents in the area to ensure our wind farm would deliver real financial and social benefits, supporting good causes and creating jobs and training opportunities.

“On top of that, it is fantastic to know that if our plans are given the go-ahead then we’ll be doing a massive amount of work to restore some of the most precious aspects of the countryside.

“Most people know that wind energy will help give Scotland a clean, green, secure and sustainable source of energy that we rely on in every aspect of our lives, which is hugely important to our future.

“But they probably don’t realise how we will actually be making huge inroads to protect and enhance very fragile habitats which are under threat right now.”

These two pieces demonstrate not just the value that wind turbines can bring to investors but also the environmental benefits which they can also bring. Just as studies of offshore wind farms have revealed that large numbers of marine and bird species use them as habitat. The benefits of wind turbines are many.

New wind capacity unlocked by radar tech

This week air traffic services company National Air Traffic Services (NATS) announced that it had signed an agreement with two large-scale onshore wind energy developers which could open up a large section of the South of Scotland and the North of England for onshore wind development.

The deal was signed between NATS and developers’ Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) and Vattenfall. Funding is to be provided to modify two radar sites – Lowther Hill in Dumfries and Great Dun Fell in the Pennines – to provide radar mitigation for wind turbines in the surrounding areas. It has been estimated that up to 2.2 Gigawatts of currently undevelopable renewable capacity could be made available for development as a result of the modification. This represents enough energy to power around 1.25 million UK homes.

NATS is a mandatory consultee  for all onshore wind turbine developments in the UK. Wind turbines have the potential to interfere with radar systems and can also ‘clutter’ radar screens given their visible nature. In cases in which this occurs NATS issue an objection to the development  on the grounds of aviation safety. Any applications subject to an objection from NATS are then rejected by the Local Authority. However, this is only the case for developments which have been inappropriately sighted. It is understood that only 2% of wind turbine developments encounter issues with radar interference.

Previously there were ways in which an objection from NATS could be addressed. For example, in some cases reducing the height of a turbine can serve to remove it from radar screens all-together. For other developments it has been the case that a computer patch can be applied to a radar system to prevent a turbine from showing up as ‘clutter’. However this solution has only ever been of limited use given that such a patch can only be used for one development in any one given area. The solution announced by NATS this week suffers from no such limitations.

Technical modifications will be made to the radar systems at Lowther Hill and Great Dun Fen. The nature of these modifications is such that more than a single turbine development becomes viable in the  surrounding areas. Mitigation will be able to be provided in the vast majority of cases for the entire lifespan of a turbine.

The technology which will be installed at Great Dun Fen and Lowther Hill has been in development for the last three years and has been funded by a variety of organisations including NATS, the Aviation Investment Fund Company Limited (AIFCL), DECC, the Crown Estate, the Scottish Government and radar manufacturer Raytheon. The nature of the agreement made between NATS, SSE and Vattenfall is such that the option is there to roll the modification out to radar sites and funding is in place to further explore the potential for further improvements to radar mitigation. NATS will also we holding briefings with the wider onshore wind energy industry next month to explain in detail how the new mitigation solution can be applied.

News of the deal was enthusiastically announced. Colin Nicol, Director of Onshore Renewables at SSE commented:

”We are delighted to have secured this agreement with NATS and with another developer. Our investment helps ensure on-going aviation safety and paves the way for unlocking not just some of our own wind development projects but potentially those of the rest of the industry as well.

“This is truly a positive collaboration between two sectors working together in partnership through innovation.”

Piers Guy, Head of Development for Vattenfall UK, observed: “This investment in UK Infrastructure will benefit the whole industry by unlocking the potential of gigawatts of otherwise stalled wind power capacity.

“This new capacity would generate well over a billion pounds of new investment creating hundreds of jobs and significantly boosting UK renewable energy production. We are very pleased to be part of such an exciting initiative which has brought the aviation and energy industry together to successfully tackle a UK wide problem and I would like to thank everyone for their commitment to delivering this safe and cost effective solution.”

Richard Deakin, NATS Chief Executive, remarked: “This is a landmark agreement that heralds a significant technical advance in mitigating the radar interference from wind turbines; it unlocks significant potential for wind-based power generation and indeed for the UK in meeting its carbon reduction targets.

“We’ve been committed to working across the industry to find a way of unlocking this new power while ensuring aviation safety.  This is a fantastic result.”

The announcement was received enthusiastically by the UK’s renewable energy industry. RenewableUK’s Chief Executive Maria McCaffery said:

“This is another significant step forward for the UK’s wind energy industry, as it creates fresh opportunities to install new capacity in areas of the country which enjoy excellent wind resources. It also marks what we hope is the start of a wider process to introduce modifications at other radar stations throughout the UK to unlock even greater capacity. RenewableUK is proud to have played its role, helping to bring the parties together and support them in the long-running process which has produced innovative technical solutions and led to this ground-breaking deal”.

In other news, last week Scottish Power revealed plans which would potentially more than double the capacity of the Ben Cruachan hydro electric power station. The hydro-plant, located in Argyll & Bute, currently has a capacity of 440 MW but this could increase to 1,040 MW of capacity provided  the feasibility studies being carried out over the next two years are successful. If the expansion does go ahead construction would take up to a decade and create 1,000 jobs during the period of peak construction.

The Scottish Government has already came out in support of the expansion. Increasing the amount of hydro-storage capacity available to the National Grid could be crucial to realizing  the country’s renewable energy ambitions. Hydro-power can be used at times of high demand and can also be used as energy storage when renewable generation outstrips demand. Electricity from, as an example, wind turbines can used to pump water up to the top of the dam meaning that hydro power can then be utilized as required at times of higher demand.

Both these pieces of news indicate the progress that Scotland is making towards its renewable ambitions both in terms of improving infrastructure and using technological progress to unlock previously unusable renewable capacity. We at Intelligent Land Investments (Renewable Energy) look forward to playing our part in helping to realize them further.

 

FiTs cuts endangering manufacturing

This week the UK Government has been accused of putting British manufacturing at risk and putting more pressure on the British farming industry by slashing feed-in tariff payments for small and medium scale wind turbine developments by 20%.

The 20% reduction to the popular and successful feed-in tariff scheme is due to come into effect on the 1st of April this year. This deadline has created a rush within the renewable energy industry to complete the installations of wind turbines, solar panels and anaerobic digestion plants before the end of March.

Prominent members of the UK’s solar panel industry have voiced confidence that the industry is well placed to cope with the 3.5% cut being introduced to the feed-in tariff payments for  domestically generated solar energy. However the far more severe cuts being introduced to the UK’s small and medium scale onshore wind industry are set to be far more problematic.

Many within the onshore wind industry and the wider renewable energy industry have voiced concerns that the severity of the soon to be implemented cuts will create a number of issues. Firstly, the cut runs of risk of provoking capital flight as investment in onshore wind energy is driven overseas. Secondly the cuts will create a barrier to smaller investors who are far more likely to invest their money in smaller scale wind energy developments. Lastly the cut threatens to negatively impact upon British manufacturing at a time when all the rhetoric is about encouraging, supporting and enabling the country’s manufacturing base.

It should be noted that it is not just the cut to the feed-in tariff itself which has raised concerns. The banding which determines what level of feed-in tariff a development receives (based upon the developments capacity) is also being changed. Up until last year, turbines of a scale up to 15kW received higher feed-in tariff payments than developments of a larger capacity. This fact helped to make small scale wind turbines an attractive investment to community groups, farmers and public concerns such as schools who are looking to reduce energy costs.

However under the new rules sub 15kW developments will now be placed in the same band as developments with a capacity of up to 100kW. This represents a significant leap. Some have suggested that this will encourage investment in the larger schemes which the government may now find more favourable however it comes at the cost to deterring smaller investors and community groups. This was point made by Gaia Wind’s Chief Executive Johnnie Andringa:

“There are a lot of small companies working in this area and the feed-in tariff helps make the product more affordable but now smaller turbines are at a disadvantage because they are in the same band as turbines ten times their size.

“It will be more difficult for small farmers or crofters to put up a small turbine and generate their own electricity”.

Keith Parslow, Chief Executive of Leicester-based small turbine manufacturer Evance made a similar point:

“You have to put in 20 of our 5kW machines for every one of the 100kW machines installed, so it really is unfair for the smaller user, it’s driven people to make do this as more of an investment… and it means our typical prospective customers are now unsure whether they can justify the investment, unless they live in an area of really high wind speeds.”

Evance is now known to be focusing its attention on the export markets to mainland Europe and the Far East.

The impact of the feed-in tariff cuts on the small and medium scale wind market is particularly unfortunate given that the majority of wind turbines manufactured within the UK fall into this scale. It is far more common for developers of  larger scale projects to import their turbines from foreign markets than it is for developers who are working on a smaller scale. At a time when so much political emphasis is placed upon supporting the British manufacturing sector it is regrettable that a government policy would work against the interests of British manufacturers. A point underlined by turbine manufacturer Ampair’s Managing Director David Sharman:

“It’s certainly going to decrease the market for small wind, which is why we now sell around two-thirds of our products overseas. We just don’t trust the British government.

“It’s a wonderful own goal by the British government to cut the tariff and damage the industry. We told them that it would harm manufacturing and they just didn’t care.”

Industry trade group RenewableUK also flagged up the potential dangers to the UK Government. Deputy Chief-Executive Maf Smith commenting:

“The UK’s world-leading small wind sector has already seen reductions of domestic installations due to the removal of the different tariff brackets for all turbines under 100kW. Small wind is a UK manufacturing success story now under huge pressure, and the thousands of farmers and small businesses up and down the country who want to generate their own power face disappointment if these changes go ahead.”

The UK Government has attempted to calm the situation. A DECC spokeswoman emphasised the feeling that the UK’ small and medium scale wind market is well placed to overcome any hurdles presented by the reduction to the feed-in tariff.

“The changes reflect the need to drive cost reductions in the sector, following significant deployment. The FITs scheme continues to support the deployment of small scale wind turbines. The number of degression bands was minimised when the degression mechanism was implemented to reduce distortions within sectors.

“Onshore wind is a major success story for the UK which brings economic benefit to our shores, supports thousands of skilled jobs and is an important contributor to our energy mix.

“As costs come down for more established technologies like solar and onshore wind, it is right that the level of public support is reduced to protect consumers.

“In line with new EU guidelines on competition and to deliver best value for money to the taxpayer, the government is considering introducing competition between more established large-scale low carbon technologies and will make a decision on this in 2014.”

We at Intelligent Land Investments (Renewable Energy) would stress that we feel well paced to handle the feed-in tariff reduction. Many of our tubine developments are already installed. Many more have secured the higher feed-in tariff rate as developments were pre-accredited with the regulators to ensure that there would be no mad rush to complete developments over the next two months.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New poll reveals support for renewables

Yesterday the Department of Energy and Climate Change published it’s eight quarterly public attitudes survey.

The survey is carried out every three months to monitor the public’s attitudes to the government’s energy policies. Face to face interviews were carried out at 2,110 households in mid December. The published results confirm that the public’s support for renewable energy remains widespread.

77% of those polled stated that they supported or strongly supported the continuing use and expanding development of the UK’s vast renewable energy resources.

This represents a 1% increase on the level of public support recorded in the previous survey. This is despite the long running campaign against renewable energy being carried out by several mass media publications. Not to mention the campaign for shale gas extraction being carried out by several of the same publications. Despite this more than three quarters of the Great British public support the continued and further use of renewable energy technologies.

51% of those people polled signaled that they “support” the use of renewable energy technologies. A further 26% of those polled responded that they “strongly support” the use of renewable energy technologies. In dramatic comparison only 4% of those polled gave the opinion that they opposed the exploitation of renewable energy resources. A further 1% “strongly opposed” the use of renewable energy. This comparison demonstrates that in reality anti-renewable energy sentiments are very much a minority, if not fringe, concern. This contrasts sharply with the picture presented in some avenues of the mainstream press which seek to portray such opinions as being held by the majority of people in this country.

The survey broke down support levels for individual forms of renewable energy generation: 81% stated their support for solar energy, 71% for wave and tidal energy, 72% for offshore wind generation, 64% for onshore wind generation and 60% for biomass. Additionally the levels of “strong support” given for each technology type stands consistently between one quarter and one third of respondents. It has been suggested that the reason  wave and tidal and offshore wind have polled so highly is due their relatively low visual impact as opposed to their cost effectiveness; a standard in which other technologies such as onshore wind rank far higher.

The survey also demonstrated that public awareness of shale gas and shale gas extraction has increased significantly in the last few years. When these quarterly surveys were first carried out two years ago 58% of respondents were unaware of shale gas. As of now this figure has decreased to 30% of respondents. Over the same time scale respondents “who know something” about shale gas have increased from 32% to 52%.

However increased awareness has not translated into increased support. This quarterly survey was the first to gauge public support for shale gas. Despite much coverage in the media and strong messages of support from some senior political figures only 27% of respondents stated that they would support shale gas development. 21% stated that they would not support shale gas development. It is also worth making the point that despite much lobbying in those parts of the UK which have been proposed as areas suitable for shale gas exploration, or fracking, have seen widespread and organised protests against the proposals.

Also this week it was announced that Glasgow City Council is to become the first local authority in the UK to switch to low energy LED (light-emitting diode) street lighting after securing a loan from the Green Investment Bank.

Glasgow City Council intends to convert over 70,000 street lights to LEDs in an effort to reduce costs, energy consumption and light pollution. Street lighting costs Local Authorities in the UK  £300 million a year and produces 1.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually. For some Local Authorities street lighting can account for up to 40% of their energy usage. The Green Investment Bank has voiced it’s hopes that other Local Authorities will follow Glasgow City Council in participating in such schemes.

Indeed to that end the Bank is offering similar loan packages to that given to Glasgow City Council to other Local Authorities. To fund LED street lighting conversion schemes the Bank is offering low, fixed rate loans over a period of up to 20 years. Repayments will be taken from energy bill savings. The Bank is advising Local Authorities that LED switching delivers pay-back within 5 to 15 years. Following this Local Authorities can expect bills to drop by up to 80%.

The securing of the loan was announced with enthusiasm from all parties. UK Green Investment Bank chief executive, Shaun Kingsbury, stated:

“Bad lighting does not come cheap, it carries an electricity bill which can be cut by up to 80 per cent with a move to low energy, LED lighting.  Making the switch saves councils money, increases community safety and dramatically reduces the UK’s carbon footprint.”

“The GIB Green Loan is essentially a corporate loan facility that covers the set-up, capital investment and installation costs of lighting upgrades to LED, with repayments being made from within forecast savings.  Put more simply, local authorities borrow money from the Green Investment Bank, but repay the loan entirely through the money they save by changing their lighting.”

Business Secretary, Vince Cable said:

“Once again the UK Green Investment Bank (GIB) is leading the way in the green revolution. Street lighting across Britain tends to be very costly and energy inefficient, emitting the same amount of carbon dioxide each year as a quarter of a million cars on the road. This investment by GIB into new LED technology could make big strides in saving money for local councils and reducing our carbon footprint. I urge councils across the country to follow Glasgow City Council’s lead and GIB’s new Green Loan can help speed up the take up of this streetlighting.

“So far through the Green Investment Bank – the first of its kind in the world – we have invested more than £750 million in energy projects which are driving innovation and our plans for green growth. For every £1 the bank has invested, £3 has been raised from the private sector for projects in areas ranging from offshore wind to waste to energy efficiency products.”

Councillor Gordon Matheson, Leader of Glasgow City Council, said:

“My vision is to make Glasgow one of Europe’s most sustainable cities. It is our goal to improve energy efficiency, cut carbon emissions and generate savings for the public purse. Glasgow City Council is not only creating a digital and low carbon route out of recession with social justice at its heart, but also ensuring Glasgow is one of Europe’s most sustainable cities.

“Glasgow is leading the way in meeting existing challenges head on to become a smarter, more intelligent city. One of our current measures is set to see us become the first local authority to receive a Green Investment Bank loan as we work towards further embracing low energy streetlighting.”

Support for renewable energy and energy-saving schemes such as that announced in Glasgow yesterday remains widespread in the UK. It is our hope that we at ILI (Renewable Energy) can do our part to increase it.