Big Tidal Comes to Scotland

nova innovation tidal turbine installation

Offshore tidal power has been bubbling under, quite literally, in recent years. With a new installation planned off the coast of Anglesey in North Wales, the UK is fast becoming one of the leading forces in underwater power.

With vast resources surrounding our small island, it makes sense that we should be finding ways to harness this opportunity. While it hasn’t been easy – after all building power plants under the sea is a pretty complicated costly  process – we could, in the next few years find more of our power coming from tidal.

The biggest place of interest at the moment is around the Shetland Islands where Edinburgh based Nova Innovations Ltd have installed a tidal system they hope is going to provide power to the local area. 5 underwater turbines capable of produce 100 kW each are due to come into operation shortly, two already have. Situated between the islands of Unst and Yell, the turbines will take advantage of the powerful tides around the Shetland area.

According to the company:

“Phase 1 of the array consists of three 100 kW Nova M100 turbines, with more turbines planned in following phases. With the help of Scottish Enterprise, Nova Innovation has delivered a project with over 80% Scottish supply chain content, and over 25% of expenditure in Shetland alone.”

It’s good news for the Shetlands which aren’t currently connected to the National Grid because of their remoteness. Up till now, the local community have got most of their power from a diesel powered plant and there has certainly been some resistance to renewable energy in the past. Plans to take advantage of the area’s strong wind resources by building turbines was stopped by local objections. While the construction of a wind farm on the main island has now got legal approval, construction has not yet begun and the locals are still not happy.

The UK is not the only European country exploring the possibility of tidal power. A new project off the coast of Brittany is well under way and, according to many experts, there is enough power in the world’s seas to produce a staggering 1 terawatt of energy (the equivalent of 1,000 GWh). Major projects have been few and far between though. The construction of a tidal lagoon in Swansea got many green activists excited but suffered from the uncertainty of the market over the last 18 months and has been hopelessly stalled by the withdrawal of investment. In the meantime, the success of the Nova Innovations project, as well as that in Anglesey, could well determine whether the UK starts to take a bigger lead in tidal energy production in the future.

Hinkley Point Nuclear Power Plant: The Final Decision? The Wrong Decision?

Hinkley Point Nuclear

With news that the Hinkley Point C power plant is now set to go ahead, there are many on both sides who still believe that it is either a very bad decision or the right one for the UK. The idea that this is a big white elephant that will cost too much and deliver too little cannot be escaped according to the anti-Hinkley groups. Nuclear is a necessary component for our future energy security in the UK, say the pro-Hinkley supporters, and despite this projects problems, it’s needed badly.

It’s difficult for the average man or woman in the street to decide which group is right.

The Case For Hinkley Point

There has always been a case for more nuclear power in the UK, both to improve our energy independence and provide a reliable source of power that doesn’t depend on when the wind blows or the sun shines. Our existing nuclear power stations are reaching the end of their natural lives and now need to be replaced if we are to continue with this energy strategy and make sure there is no overlap where we find ourselves stripped of resources.

Hinkley Point will, when completed, produce 3.5 GW of electricity and deliver 7% of the power we need. It will also be the first nuclear power station we have built in the last 20 years. There are other, knock on, advantages for the Hinkley Point project. It’s thought that there will be thousands of jobs created during the construction, which is vital for the area. An additional £200 million economic boost is expected for the area during the time the plant is being built. It’s no wonder that local unions were in favour of the project going ahead.

For the Government, their point of view is that we can’t just rely on renewables and green technologies to power homes and businesses . Nuclear is low carbon and we need a variety of energy sources if we are to prosper in the future.

The Case Against Hinkley Point

While most green supporters will talk about the impact of nuclear, and how it is disposed of, as one of the primary reasons not to build a new power plant, the majority of objections are over the cost of the plant and the reliability of EDF. The initial cost is set at £18 billion but this is undoubtedly going to rise. EDF, the French company tasked with building the power plant, don’t have a great track record for getting builds in on time. Indeed, the Guardian reported recently that the price of the plant could rise as high as £37 billion. The other problem is the highly subsidised tariff for producing power from the plant and that it is going to cost consumers a lot, certainly more than many in Government and in favour of the project are letting on.

Even as far back as last September the Hinkley Point power station was tagged as a white elephant. Green MP Caroline Lucas asks the question:

“The only two nuclear power stations under construction in Europe today are billions of pounds over budget and facing increasing delays. With Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, Spain, Sweden and Denmark all rejecting new nuclear, why is the UK still obsessed with keeping this expensive and unnecessary technology alive?”

In the end, the go ahead has been given and there’s not much that can be now done. Hinkley Point will be our first nuclear power station in 20 years and it may be a vital part of our energy infrastructure. Alternatively, it could be a big drain on valuable resources and take several decades before it comes online. Only time will tell.

Think Tank Says No to Renewable Heat

heat pumps and solar panels

While many are looking forward to the rise of the heat pump in the next few years, think tank Policy Exchange has decided to throw a spanner in the works. Not only do they say that heat pumps aren’t all they’re cracked up to be but that focusing on them and similar tech is the wrong strategy.

It’s much better to focus on energy savings and decarbonising our gas supply by using solutions such as bio-methane, say the group, adding in an interview to the Carbon Trust:

“…electric heat pumps look like a very expensive way to decarbonise domestic heating…In general, I think that many people have underestimated quite how difficult and expensive it would be to bring about a widespread conversion of heating to electric heat pumps.”

It’s thought that installing greener heating technology in all our homes is going to cost the tax payer around £12,000 each. This represents a total of £200 billion with another £100 billion on top for additional electricity. One of the major problems, of course, is that we have to meet certain targets for reducing our carbon emissions and this can’t be done without tackling the issue of heating.

When we still had the Department of Energy and Climate Change, Amber Rudd admitted that these targets were not going to be reached in a leaked email. Since then, the Government has been panicking about how it is going to turn things around in time for 2020. Switching to green heating seemed like a perfectly reasonable approach. As with most solutions concerning the current Government, the message has quickly become confused and there seems to have been the usual lack of preplanning and thought put into the process.

There is nothing wrong with putting up subsidies for technology like heat pumps and moving us to a less carbon dependent heating system. Across Europe, heat pumps and similar technology are much more popular than they are in the UK, particularly in areas such as Sweden and Norway. The problem is that the only reason for the UK Government focusing on them seems to be their rush to get that carbon reduction target down.

It’s likely that the rise in feed in tariffs for renewable heating such as heat pumps will go ahead which is good news for many domestic and commercial property owners who want to lower their own carbon footprints. The tech is also developing and heat pumps capable of creating much higher levels of warmth in the home (including heating up the water) could well be just around the corner.

According to Ofgem, the number of renewable heating systems given the go ahead reached 50,000 in July and awareness and popularity is apparently growing. Increases to the RHI could see a major shift in our heating if it gains more traction, with many of us starting to move away from costly and high carbon emitting gas boilers.

Does it need to happen by 2020? It’s clear that this is the focus of the current Government but it’s unlikely to happen. According to renewable energy expert for Yorkshire Heat Pumps, Kate Wright, though, we’d be foolish to pass up this opportunity to decarbonise our heating:

“In the last year we definitely noticed an uplift as confidence in the economy grew, and now it’s even more appealing to choose cost-efficient heating systems. Going green cannot just save money in the long term by lower operating costs but can, in many cases, more than recoup the cost of the installation with RHI.”


New Studies to Open Door to 99.9% Wind Turbine Reliability

wind turbine repair


 Improving turbine reliability to 99.9% will require new data analysis approaches across the industry, according to a researcher linked to Sandia National Laboratories.

“We’re no longer talking about 50 or 60% reliability,” said Carsten Westergaard of Texas Tech University, a Sandia affiliate. “A good turbine is probably 98%. We want to go to 99.9%. And you can’t just do that with a logistics mindset.”

In a paper due to be published in Probabilistic Prognostics and Health Management of Energy Systems, Carsten says existing data acquisition and analysis techniques are insufficient to develop models that can improve reliability above current levels.

“Understanding wind farm reliability from various data sources is highly complex because the boundary conditions for the data often are undocumented and impact the outcome of aggregation significantly,” it says.

Sandia has been tracking multiple wind farm supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) streams since 2007, through its Continuous Reliability Enhancement Wind (CREW) project, but has reached the limits of how this data can help in understanding reliability.

At the same time, the financial models widely employed by the industry are of only limited use in enhancing reliability, since they tend to focus on the cost of faults rather than what causes failure.

Benchmark averages

Westergaard said benchmark averages drawn from current data sets might fail to account for the impact of discrete events such as lightning strikes.

Lightning typically causes multiple small fractures which the industry has become adept at spotting and repairing, often within a week or two instead of over 12 months as was previously the case, Westergaard said.

However, being able to repair the damage does not mean asset owners are closer to understanding why it happens in the first place.

“Out of a thousand turbines you may have three major lightning strike damage incidents a year, on a fleet of, say, seven different types of turbine,” Westergaard explained. “That’s not enough to get clever on. It’s an area where shared knowledge would really be good.”

To date, he said, the wind industry has not been good at sharing data. This means current reliability benchmarks may be inaccurate. In the case of lightning, benchmarks are based on experience gained in the North Sea.

But the North Sea has an average of 50 days a year of lightning, which means conditions are not comparable to California, which has almost zero, or Texas, which has 75.

Complex analytics

In order to overcome this problem, Sandia is working to make it easier to aggregate wind industry data so that more complex analytics can be applied to gain a greater technical understanding of reliability.

A first step in this process is to create a common format for data that allows different sets to be integrated. Sandia is currently developing a common data-tagging framework that can be used on future and past data sets.

Westergaard said the framework could be incorporated into an audit process to ensure it is used across the industry. This could help asset owners gain a greater understanding of the causes of failure and ultimately lead to “a 1.5% reduction in faults,” he said.

It is hoped the work will also uncover fault patterns that cannot be predicted on a single-turbine basis.

One of the more surprising findings in Westergaard’s work is that identical turbines can have very different performance and reliability profiles even on the same wind farm.

Westergaard said this could be because of the way each turbine interacts with others, and with other elements in the environment. Such variability is not fully captured in current reliability and performance models.

Turbine fault counts based on data over 1.5 years, showing massive variability between machines (source: C.H. Westergaard, S.B. Martin, J.R. White, C. Carter and B, Karlson, ‘Towards a more robust understanding of the uncertainty of wind farm reliability’, to appear in Probabilistic Prognostics and Health Management of Energy Systems).

“We’re so used to thinking of a turbine as a turbine, but we’re not really thinking of it as an element that is interacting with other elements,” Westergaard said. “Looking at the data, it was mind-blowing in its diversity.”

The Sandia initiative to standardize, integrate, analyze and understand reliability data is still in its early stages and the development of a proof-of-concept system is dependent on further funding.

If this is forthcoming, Westergaard said the proof of concept could start yielding results in around a year’s time.

Scott Abramson, director of operational excellence at Duke Energy Renewables, one of the largest asset owners in the US, welcomed the prospect of better knowledge about turbine reliability and performance.

“As an owner-operator, we find there is a large disparity in operation and downtime between technologies,”

he said. “When we look at information or data from wind turbines, it is most helpful to have it broken down by specific technology.

“This allows us to analyze and compare data most accurately.”

This article has been released in conjunction with the 3rd Annual Wind O&M Canada 2016 (Nov 29-30, Toronto

For further information please contact Kerr Jeferies t Wind Energy Update at [email protected] or call +44 (0) 207 375 7565



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