This week I read the article “Britain’s massive offshore wind power potential” by Paul Eccleston published on Telegraph.co.uk on October 5, 2007. This article immediately grabbed my attention because my first though was, “England? Wind power? How does that work?” Since the most common way I have seen wind harnessed is through giant windmills in the plans of West Texas, I was intrigued at how such a tiny island could extract enough profitable power from the wind to actually be useful.
However, the technology that the UK is using to harness the wind power is giant offshore wind turbines. These seem to be much more preferable than the windmills I’m used to seeing on land because they are placed so far out to sea that they don’t bother anyone’s property. Also, because they are so far out to sea, they can be built on a much larger scale.
Another interesting fact is that the UK is “the windiest place in Europe”, so extracting power from the wind will be a feasible idea. Currently, there are 5 offshore wind farms that are operational, with many more on the way. The British Government has a goal of obtaining 20% of their energy needs from sustainable sources by the year 2020. With the amount of wind that is available, this seems reasonable.
The rest of the article discusses the corporations that are behind these wind farms in the sea and the economics behind it, reading the article really spurred my interest in design and construction of the wind turbines that are actually used at sea.
As it turns out, the offshore wind turbines that are places out at sea are identical to the 3-bladed ones that cover West Texas. The only difference is, that they are in the middle of the ocean.
Even though these offshore wind farms seem like great ideas because wind is free, there is a great abundance of it, and it doesn’t really bother the people that are using the energy in the end, I can’t help but think that there are some disadvantages to these farms. And, it raised some questions with me.
What is the maintenance of an offshore turbine compared to an onshore one? I would assume that the constant interaction with the salt water would be somewhat corrosive to the turbines, so they would require more maintenance than one that resides on land. And, even though the turbines are non-obtrusive to humans that live on land, what about the animals that live in the sea? It certainly has to disrupt the surrounding ecosystem by placing giant wind turbines in the middle of the sea, especially while they would be under construction. Once they are in place, I wonder how long it takes for the ecosystem to stabilize and whether or not it has been permanently damaged.
Even though the British seem to be way ahead of us Americans on this technology, July 15, 2008 CNN’s Paul Courson published “Wind farm to be built off Delaware shore” where it was announced that Delmarva Power and Bluewater Wind will be constructing the US’s first offshore wind farm offshore of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. This company projects that they will be able to get 16% of their energy from the 150 wind turbines that will be constructed. This farm is expected to be up and running by 2012.
Since the US has substantially more coastline than Britain, I think that it would be a sustainable technology worth investigating. Now, whether or not we have the quality of wind that the British Isles get would have to be studied. However, before any company jumped into the construction of these turbines, I hope that both the companies and local governments do their research to make sure they aren’t harming the local ecosystem of the sea as well as research the maintenance of the turbines to see if they are cost efficient.