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.

 

New radar system could mean boon for onshore wind

Last week a new and potentially revolutionary 3D radar system was tested in Scotland. The new system is designed to eliminate interference in radar systems from wind turbines.

Current radar systems can be subject to interference from wind turbines. When spinning and generating power turbines in areas covered by aviation radar systems can potentially confuse or ‘clutter’ radar. Whilst there are some limited solutions available to turbine developers the scale at which these can be used is limited. Existing aviation radar systems can be ‘patched’  to reduce any potential for ‘clutter’ on radar screens however this must be done on an individual basis and it is generally the case that one patch can be used in a 2.5 kilometre radius. Additionally patches are not always available. These limitations have meant that many potential onshore wind developments have been unable to progress despite them meeting all other criteria for development in terms of environmental and landscape impact,grid capacity, visual impact etc. The trade body RenewableUK has estimated that approximately 6.2 GW (Gigawatts) worth of onshore wind developments have been held up due to such aviation issues. However, this figure is likely to be higher due to developments being dropped early or never progressed with due to expectations of such issues down the line.

The new 3D holographic radar system was successfully tested at Prestwick Airport last week by the systems developer Aveillant. The new 3D radar system was successful in differentiating between spinning turbine blades and flying aircraft. The turbines at Millour Wind Farm which is nearby to Prestwick Airport were used to conduct the tests. It should be noted this this windfarm is located in an area which does not cause any potential safety risks to the existing radar system at Prestwick Airport.

The new radar system has also been succesfully tested recently in the United States; at Indian Mesa Wind Farm in West Texas. In both tests the system was completely successful in pinpointing the location of all turbines and aircraft (as part of the test information about the flight-paths and altitudes of aircraft passing over and near to the turbines was not made known in advance) without any interference. Following the US tests it was announced that American civil and military surveillance requirements were successfully met. Gordon Oswald, Aveillant’s Chief Technology Officer stated:

“We don’t know exactly what was flown overhead – we’re talking about the most sophisticated government in the world here, and they will be out to test us – but we can confirm that several different types of aircraft were detected above and around the wind farm, and that our radar easily distinguished between wind farms and different types of aircraft.”

It is worth noting that the radar system was safely and successfully installed for the US test in less than a day. Developer Aveillant has announced that provided further, more detailed, tests are successful then the radar system could be in commercial operation by the end of this year.

David Crisp, chief executive at Aviellant made the following statement after the completion of the test at Prestwick:

“This is the first live demonstration of the radar [in the UK] and it has gone fantastically well.

“We have had very good feedback from wind farm developers and the Civil Aviation Authority, and will be doing more detailed risk assessments to meet the CAA’s standards.

“It’s an interesting thing to demonstrate because we are basically showing that there is nothing to see. Normal radar sweeps around once every four seconds. Holographic 3D radar is the next generation technology, going round four times per second, or 16 times faster.

“The first aim was to prove that the 3D radar can differentiate between aircraft and turbines, which was clearly demonstrated. The second aim was to show that the holographic radar can be integrated with airport radar, which happened seamlessly.

“If all those objections shown in the RenewableUK data last year were removed you could almost double the amount of wind farms in the UK. This will have a huge impact in Scotland, which is, quite rightly I think, very committed to wind power and has a very good wind climate compared to England.”

Several major players in the onshore wind industry have invested in the development of this new radar system through the Aviation Investment Fund Company Limited (AIFC).Currently AIFC has invested £500,000 in the development. Their chairman Simon Heyes was present at the test in the UK and made the following comment to the press:

“To see what we have heard so much about has been really good. It certainly takes us a step forward to our goal of getting wind farms constructed where they currently are held up by objections from airports.”

Industry body Scottish Renewables has estimated that around half of all wind turbine applications which have ran into aviation issues are in Scotland. From this then we can see the contribution the roll-out of such new radar systems could make not just to Scotland’s onshore wind industry but to our country’s targets in renewable energy generation, carbon emission reduction and to increasing our energy security.

Scottish Renewables’ senior policy manager Ross Blairmie reacted to the successful testing:

“For a number of years the industry has been working extensively to understand how wind farms interact with radars used by the aviation industry … This has resulted in major investments being made to find innovative solutions to tackle the issue.

“Scottish Renewables welcomes the new research and technology being tested by Aveillant and hopes to work with companies like them, along with the Scottish Government and the aviation industry, to find a solution to remove this significant barrier to the development of onshore wind in Scotland.”

It is worth noting that the issue of radar interference has not just affected the development of large scale wind farms but small and medium scale developments such as those carried out by ourselves at Intelligent Land Investments (Renewable Energy). Whilst much of the media attention has focused on wind farms, as is often the case, there are landowners and farmers in many areas of Scotland who have been unable to progress with their developments due to aviation concerns. The successful commercial deployment of new 3D radar systems represents an opportunity for many farmers and landowners to progress with onshore wind developments. Meaning that much needed revenue streams can be accessed in what are difficult times for many in the agricultural industry. Additionally the progression of such developments would also mean more funding for community contribution schemes such as we at ILI (RE) operate.

We eagerly await further news on this front.

 

 

Aviation Biofuels: A Future Necessity

Aviation is an industry which is coming under increasing pressure from the ever rising costs of fossil fuels and the politics of carbon emission reduction and taxation. Given that the aviation industry is currently completely dependent on fossil fuels and that solutions to land based transport problems such as electricity and hydrogen cannot apply there is an increasing interest in the development of new forms of biofuel.

At 2:25pm on the 6th of October more than 230 passengers departed from Birmingham Airport with Lanzarote as their destination. This flight was notable as it was part-powered by biofuel. One of the planes engines was running on a newly developed aviation biofuel – a 50/50 mix of standard Jet A1 fuel and “Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids” (produced using cooking oil). No modification to the engine was required to allow it to run on the biofuel. This biofuel was supplied to TUI Travel UK and Ireland by the Dutch company SkyNRG. This new biofuel has been approved as sustainable by both the WWF (Worldwide Wildlife Fund) and the Roundtable on Sustainable ‘Biofuels (an international monitoring group for alternative fuels). However the problems lingering on the horizon for aviation have not yet dispersed. This biofuel is significantly more expensive than standard aviation fuel and it is difficult to see how cooking oil could ever be produced in enough quantities to supply worldwide air travel. This is without even broaching the subject of the damage increased biofuel production could inflict on world markets and the price of food.

However TUI Travel insists that biofuels derived from cooking oil are only being used as a demonstration of how biofuels can be used in aviation; with other biofuels produced from sources such as algae expected to hold more long term potential. Never the less it has been announced that daily flights using this biofuel will begin in 2012.

Reactions to this test flight were somewhat mixed. Captain Phil Copnall, who piloted the flight, commented that: “The flight landed on schedule and the reaction from our customers on the flight was overwhelmingly positive.”

Christian Cull, Communications Director of TUI UK & Ireland remarked:

“We realise that we won’t please everyone, and that at present the aviation biofuel supply chain is not perfect.

“We are sincere in our commitment and are proud to be flying with biofuel. Whilst these are early days, we are in this for the long haul because we believe it is the right thing to do.”

The company released the following official statement:

“The aviation industry fully supports the move for all modes of transport to more sustainable energy sources.

“Whilst we are in a transition phase, Thomson Airways [a subsidiary of TUI Travel] believes that sustainable liquid fuel should be prioritised for aviation as there is no near term alternative, such as electric or hydrogen for ground-based vehicles.”

Aviation Minister Theresa Villiers:

“The British government believes that sustainable biofuels have a role to play in efforts to tackle climate change, particularly in sectors where no other viable low carbon energy source has been identified – as is the case with aviation.”

The Biofuels Campaigner at Friends of the Earth UK, Kenneth Richter reacted:

Biofuels won’t make flying any greener – their production is wrecking rainforests, pushing up food prices and causing yet more climate-changing emissions.

“The government must curb future demand for flights by halting airport expansion, promoting video conferencing, and developing faster, better and affordable rail services.”

On Tuesday the 11th of October Sir Richard Branson announced that Virgin Atlantic planes will be using a newly developed “green” aviation fuel. The proposed fuel – which will be produced in partnership with the New Zealand based biofuel company Lanzatech – will be manufactured from waste gases produced during the industrial production of steel. These waste gases will be extracted, fermented and then put through a process of chemical conversion. Currently such gases are burned up during steel production and released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Lanzatech indicated that they estimated that their process could be applied to 65% of the worlds steel mills and could possibly also be used in metals processing and and chemicals industries.

The necessary technology is currently being piloted in New Zealand with demo flights expected to be carried out within the next 12 to 18 months. Lanzatech chief executive Jennifer Holmgren announced that she was “confident” that commercial production would be up and running in China by 2014. Virgin Atlantic plans to initially use this form of biofuel on it’s routes from Heathrow to Delhi and Shanghai before eventually rolling it out across the rest of its fleet.

During the announcement of his plans Sir Richard Branson stated:

“We were the first commercial airline to test a biofuel flight and we continue to lead the airline industry as the pioneer of sustainable aviation.

“This partnership to produce a next generation low-carbon aviation fuel is a major step towards radically reducing our carbon footprint, and we are excited about the savings that this technology could help us achieve.

“With oil running out, it is important that new fuel solutions are sustainable and, with the steel industry alone able to deliver over 15 billion gallons of jet fuel annually, the potential is very exciting.

“This new technology is scalable, sustainable and can be commercially introduced at a cost comparable to conventional jet fuel.”

Friends of the Earth’s transport campaigner Richard Dyer released the following statement:

“On the face of it, it does look promising in that they are getting round the issues of biofuels and land use. It is a very long way from commercial use. It has got to be very safe and cheap enough for airlines to be interested in using it.”

The potential biofuels hold for the aviation industry is obvious.

As Sir Richard Branson observed on his blog biofuels could “turn aviation from a dirty industry to one of the cleanest”. However, there are numerous challenges to come. The fuel proposed by Virgin Atlantic appears to hold huge potential but at this point in time it remains just that; potential. Other more developed biofuels are problematic for the worlds food supply as they compete for the same arable land. But if such problems can be overcome then a major reduction in greenhouse gas emissions can be achieved.