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.