The development of offshore wind around the UK whether using fixed foundations or floating has been hailed as a great success.
Not a UK or Scottish success but entirely down to the ingenuity, vision and determination of primarily Danish, German, and American turbine manufacturing companies and their engineers plus of course their governments and financial sectors.
There are as yet no Chinese-manufactured turbines over here but that can’t be far away.
There’s also a Norwegian company that’s about to test the prototype of a new contra-rotating vertical-axis turbine floating wind turbine.
How did the Norwegians – for whom I have great respect having worked with them for years – manage to do that when we seemingly can’t?
Will Aberdeen’s “National Floating Wind Innovation Centre” make a difference?
History tells me not to expect it to do any real innovating but to essentially function as a conduit for offshore wind developers to spend sufficient cash on studies and evaluations and other pointless projects to boost their Scottish content as required by the ScotWind programme contract rules. In short, it’s a sort of legalised money laundering exercise.
In Glasgow, there’s the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult. It has established the Floating Offshore Wind Centre of Excellence which they claim will “develop an internationally recognised initiative to reduce the cost of energy from floating wind.” Expect more studies and lots of conferences but that’s all.
A large proportion of wind-derived electricity is already being exported from Scotland to the rest of the UK and a new subsea cable project has been announced recently which will connect East Lothian in Scotland to County Durham.
The Eastern Green Link 1 is a £1.8bn project which could carry enough electricity to feed up to 2 million houses in England. Worth noting there are only around 2.7 million homes in the whole of Scotland.
There’s no industrial benefit to Scotland from this and limited tax revenue. A few jobs during construction maybe but the cable, its installation and the converter stations at each end will all use overseas service and manufacturing companies.
Exporting electricity is of course one of the main drivers behind the ScotWind programme and it’s going to result in huge numbers of new overhead cables and their pylons being built across large tracts of Scottish countryside.
This is quite rightly leading to discontent amongst many communities. It’s also hugely expensive which is bad news because consumers will end up paying for it all whilst electricity supply company shareholders benefit.
In a recent article in “Investment Monitor” Scottish Enterprise say they think it’s possible that despite the grid expansion programme some offshore wind farms won’t get a grid connection and should therefore be used to produce hydrogen although they don’t say what it would be used for.
I think it’s time to review this whole deal. Big generators such as gas-fired power plants, nuclear, etc. needed the grid because you can’t have a small local version of one in the field next door to your town or village.
The grid was simply the best way to distribute the energy these big generators produced.
That’s no longer the case though. A Scottish village like mine could have a modest wind farm in one of the fields around us as indeed could most towns.
Every building in this village could have sufficient solar to fill a lot of their demand. And – whether you use hydrogen or batteries you could provide sufficient storage to deal with low wind or solar production.
The threat of power failure caused by extreme weather or other issues is dramatically reduced and prices are no longer impacted by the cost of gas.
That modest wind farm would in turn only need modest turbines. Does that provide an opportunity for Scottish manufacturing perhaps using new technologies?
A Swedish company has built a prototype 30m high turbine tower from timber laminates and is working on a 100m version.
A German startup is building 20 m-long wooden turbine blades and is working on an 80 m-long design as well.
One UK company – Renewable Energy Systems Ltd – has agreed to use 20 of the Swedish wooden towers a year from 2026.
Now I hate to mention this but one of the resources we have in abundance In Scotland is wood. So could we possibly manufacture our own wooden turbine towers and blades here to help create an alternative off-grid solution to Scotland’s energy needs rather than having to accept most ScotWind energy could be exported whilst gaining negligible Scottish industrial and tax revenue benefit.
Big is not always beautiful. Local could bring more benefits. Let’s slay the “grid must rule” dragon.
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