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.