Are Community Energy Projects Still Viable?

community energy

Prior to the changes in the Feed in Tariff at the beginning of 2016, community energy projects around the UK were beginning to thrive. With many local residents buying shares in various solar, wind and hydro installations, it seemed the perfect way to develop renewables across the country.

But did the slashing of subsidies by the Government at the beginning of the year mean that community energy is now less viable? Or is there still a place in our communities for these small scale but important projects?

According to a recent ICM poll, the support for community based renewable energy projects is still high:

“More than two-thirds – 67% – of the 2,000 UK adults polled by ICM last month said they would support local community-owned renewable energy projects such as solar panels and wind turbines, with just 8% in opposition.”

Not only that, but 78% of respondents thought the Government should actually be doing more to help community projects get off the ground. Many people are also willing to see a small surcharge on their bills for local initiatives that benefit their local area.

Organisations such as the Co-operative Energy and the Energy Savings Trust have been helping communities to develop their own renewable energy projects for the last six years for solar, wind and hydroelectric power. Most energy companies are owned by their shareholders but the Co-operative is actually dictated to by its members and the organisation believes that people want to see more locally based initiatives such as this.

According to managing director Ramsay Dunning:

“The newly formed Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and its welcomingly engaged ministers have a fantastic opportunity to tap the public’s goodwill and provide a significant boost to the UK’s social enterprise economy.”

Last year 76 projects were registered but this dropped dramatically once the Government introduced new changes and slashed the subsidies at the beginning of 2016. Just 10 community schemes have been registered so far this year, a worrying sign for anyone who wants to see more local involvement in renewable energy. Last week, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that he would reverse many of the Government’s energy policies and pointed to community energy schemes in particular.

According to the Guardian recently:

“Community energy schemes, many of which are run or partly run by local volunteers and which invite residents to invest, can also benefit schools and other public buildings by reducing their energy bills. But they have suffered from the axing of key tax relief, increasingly complex regulations and the slashing of the feed-in tariffs meant to support the growth of solar panels.”

Community projects are still viable but many people are now less willing to invest on a local level as the feed in tariff subsidy has been cut by so much. That doesn’t mean there won’t be any more projects in the future but the loss of a decent subsidy has certainly made a big difference. The recent Chester Community Energy project managed to get its scheme underway just before the cuts but would not have been able to proceed without a competitive feed in tariff. Those that had begun to raise money, including one for the Brighton Energy Co-operative, now find themselves unable to continue.

The chances are that, unless things change and policy becomes more favourable, we will indeed see less and less community projects in the coming years. Something that could have had a significant impact on our energy infrastructure has now been stalled and there appear to be no plans to rectify the problem. That’s something we perhaps should all be a little angry about.

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

University Conference Tackles Decarbonisation of Heating


While most experts agree that decarbonising our heating one hundred per cent is not possible at the moment, lowering our collective carbon footprint can be significantly improved by using technologies such as heat pumps in the future. At the University of Warwick in October, there is a conference based on just that assumption.

With the UK government taking more interest in low carbon techs to help meet our climate change obligations over the next decade or so, this could be a good time to invest and install a heat pump. The Future Thermal Energy Conference at the university is going to look at the political and technological advances that need to be made if we want to move to a more decarbonised economy.

According to the Head of Energy and Sustainability at the university:

“The reality is that we need to be compliant not just with our 2016 challenges but where the policy expects us to get to, and that doesn’t mean finding fancier ways to burn gas – it means complete decarbonisation of heat and power within a generation. Only then will we be sustainable.”

The conference will discuss issues such as how we achieve decarbonisation over the next few years, what influence district heating systems can have, a variety of different technologies such as heat pumps, biomass and solar thermal and how people can be encouraged to switch to more renewable heating. The conference is not only aimed at industry leaders but businesses and private individuals who want to find a way to cut down their carbon emissions.

One thing is for sure. If the Government is serious about us moving to these new heating systems, for both domestic and commercial markets, then there needs to be incentives in place. There are strong rumours that the Renewable Heat Incentive or RHI is going to be repackaged and that more assistance will be given to those who want to change to systems like heat pumps.

There has already been a consultation which took place before the demise of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. This put a more forceful case forward for the decarbonisation of our heating in the UK. The primary reason is that heating accounts for almost half of our carbon emissions and, if any impact is to be made and we are to meet our climate change obligations, this needs to addressed as a matter of urgency.

Even with the death of the DECC and its change to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the focus on developing decarbonised heating seems to have remained. There were many who thought that climate change was being pushed on the back burner when the announcement was made post-Brexit and the Government will have to do some work to make sure this perception is not realised. Their track record over the last few years has been luke warm on renewable technology, to say the least.

There is a long way to go before we all have heat pumps in our home and the logistics of converting a largely gas and electricity based heating system and culture to something more sustainable and carbon friendly is not going to be easy. It can be done, however. According to many experts it has to be done – if we fail then there will be no possibility of bringing down carbon emissions and offsetting the effects of climate change.

The conference is at the University of Warwick on 10th and 11th October.

Why You Should Install a Heat Pump in Your Home and How to Do It

Heat Pumps

News that the Government is about to increase payments through their Renewable Heat Incentive for low carbon technologies such as heat pumps could have major benefits for households and businesses across the UK over the next year or so. The city of Drammen in Norway switched to heat pump technology and managed to decarbonise its city heating by 85%. With the right incentive for the UK, it’s hoped that the same kind of reductions could be made and, in the process, significantly lower our collective carbon footprint.

About a half of carbon emissions for the UK come from commercial and domestic heating – and we need to reduce this quickly if we are to meet our climate change obligations. Switching to low carbon technology such as a heat pump, therefore, makes good sense.

The Benefits of a Heat Pump

  • Despite the fact that it uses a small amount of electricity to run, heat pumps are seen as a renewable heating technology.
  • They take the latent heat from the ground, air or even water to provide hot water and heating.
  • If you are replacing something like conventional electric heating, you can expect to see a significant reduction in your fuel bills.
  • You can also lower your carbon emissions depending on the fuel system you are replacing.
  • You can get extra income from the Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive which may well be increased shortly to encourage uptake over the next year or so.
  • Low operating costs and low maintenance means that heat pumps are a highly attractive way to heat your home or business if you have the right kind of property.

Types of Heat Pump

There are three main types of heat pump – ground, air and water sourced. They essentially work in a similar way to your refrigerator but in reverse, heating up rather than cooling down by a process of compression. There is heat in everything around us and this technology can extract it even if the temperatures outside are below zero.

Air Sourced Heat Pumps: These are fitted to the outside wall of your property and use a fan mechanism to draw in the air. This is then fed into a compressor that increases the temperature which is then subsequently fed into your hot water and heating systems.

Ground Sourced Heat Pumps: This requires more work and comes at a higher cost but is also considered more efficient. A network of pipes is laid in the ground surrounding your property and these extract the heat which is then fed into your home system.

Water Sourced Heat Pumps: It’s not just ground and air that can be used to produce heat. Any decent sized water source such as a lake or pond can be used, even a river.

Are You Well Insulated?

Heat pumps work at lower temperatures than traditional heating systems so your home or business property needs to have good insulation. For new properties this isn’t normally a problem but for older ones it might require some remedial work before installing a heat pump becomes viable. The good news is that recent developments means that we may soon have commercially available heat pumps that produce much higher temperatures, solving this problem once and for all.

What is the Renewable Heat Incentive?

The RHI was introduced by the Government in 2011 and was intended to help those who took up renewable heating like biomass, solar thermal and heat pumps, making sure they would be rewarded for doing so. It basically pays a certain amount for every kWh of heat produced and is paid quarterly for the first seven years of the installation. The Government is currently looking at this to see how they can provide more incentive for uptake.

Find out more about heat pumps and the Renewable Heat Incentive here.

Renewable Energy – Living a Greener Life

a greener life

Heating is one of the many ways you can live a greener, more environmentally friendly lifestyle. Heating a home can create a significant carbon footprint – especially so if your energy is sourced from fossil fuels. Around 20% of the UK’s carbon footprint is from domestic heating, and so heating alone represents a massive opportunity for the more environmentally friendly among us to life a greener, more sustainable life.

In this article we look at ways you can reduce your carbon footprint and heat your home in a more sustainable, environmentally friendly way. We also look at the role wood plays as a key element to sustainable heating in the home.

Possible Off Grid Heating Options. Although this is not practical for all, going off grid, especially if you live in an isolated area, can be a great way to lower your carbon footprint.

Below are a number of options for consideration:

Biomass Boilers: A biomass boiler is run by burning a range of things including logs, pellets and wood.

Biomass boilers are highly environmentally friendly and so great for reducing your carbon footprint. If they have the appropriate exemption certificates they can also be used in smoke control zones too, which adds to their practicality. There are three types of wood fueled heating systems available:

1. A boiler that provides heat and hot water for the entire home
2. A stand-alone stove that provides heat to specific rooms
3. A stove with a back-boiler that heats the room directly and also provides hot water, and may also run radiators in the rest of the house.

Heat Pumps: A heater pump works like a fridge in reverse! They extract energy from the ground and air and turn it into a form, which can be used to heat a home. It’s not totally carbon neutral, as you do need an electrical source to power the pump – although it certainly is considered environmentally friendly. You also need a large amount of land to bury the pipework too.

Solar Heating – Solar power can provide around 50% of hot water needs for a home, mainly thanks to the British weather. However, it can be topped up with another alternative energy source to create a truly sustainable, green heating option for a home.

The Growth of Renewable Energy:

 Renewable energy usage grew by 20% between 2014 and 2015 and is now over six and a half times the level it was at in 2000. This growth is huge, and is a clear sign that there is a move towards a cleaner, more environmentally friendly future.

Bioenergy vs Fossil Fuels – The Main Difference:

Fossil fuels and biomass are similar in so much as they are both made from organic matter. However, fossil fuels are not renewable and reserves are quickly dropping.  Also, the cost of fossil fuel extraction is very costly, compared to biomass, which, by comparison is very cheap. The cost of sourcing fuel is cut out totally if you are directly managing a renewable energy source, such as wood from a specially managed forest.

The wonderful thing about Biomass is that it takes carbon out of the atmosphere while it grows, and returns it, when it is burned. A truly sustainable source of heating – unlike fossil fuels.

Wood as a Heating Source:

In this article we have looked at a range of heating options, and there is one element, which emerges as a favorite, an element which is key in so many of the sustainable heating options, which of course is wood. However, many people still think of wood as a secondary energy source, ideal for a stove in your lounge, but not as a main energy source.

The fact is that domestic heating, as mentioned already, accounts for around 20% of the UK carbon emissions. It is here you can make the most significant impact towards a more environmentally friendly, sustainable way of heating your home.

Although wood is environmentally friendly, there are different types to consider. As environmentally friendly wood may be, not all are the same!

Below is a list of the best wood you can burn:

 – Ash is one of the very best woods for burning. It produces a steady flame and a great heat output. Ash can also be burnt when green, but like with most wood ash burns at it’s very best when it is dry. This wood tends to have a very low moisture content when live, which is the main reason why you can burn it when it is green.

Beech – Similar to ash, beech burns very well. However, it has a higher moisture content when live, and so needs to be dry before burning.

Hawthorn – This type of wood has a slow burn rate, and a good heat output.

Rowan – Similar to hawthorn, rowan, also known as Mountain Ash has a very good heat output that burns slowly.

Thorn – Thorn produces very little smoke, which makes it an ideal wood where excessive smoke could be a problem. It also is a great wood due to it having a slow burn rate, and it provides an impressive heat output too.

Oak – It makes great firewood. It burns slowly and makes a smaller flame. It burns best when seasoned for over two years.

Yew – Yew produces an intense heat output. Yew is poisonous however, so be careful.

Pine – The resin sap can cause deposits in a flue, which can increase the risk of a chimney fire. It does product a very good flame however.

Cherry – It is an easy wood to split, so this makes an ideal wood if you have to cut up your own logs, and you don’t fancy the additional work of cutting up tougher wood. On a wood burning stove cherry can spit and crackle a little.

In Conclusion:

The world is moving towards a more sustainable future, and we are all thinking more about the environment. However, there is still a long way to go, and there are still lots of ways we can all do out bit. Not everyone is going to want to, or be able to live a highly sustainable life. However, taking a few hints and tips will at least help point us in the right direction.

By Rob Morgan of Charlton & Jenrick – Best of British fires, fireplaces & stoves

UK Power Blades for Burbo Bank

Construction of Burbo Bank Windfarm

If you’ve ever wondered where those huge turbine blades come from, then MHI Vestas are one of the few companies based in the UK that make them. Their brand new power blades are now being transported to Belfast to form part of the 258 MW Burbo Bank expansion project that will provide power for thousands more homes.
MHI Vestas are, at the moment, the only UK factory producing such components for the wind turbine market and, surprisingly, it’s the first time locally produced ones have been made and delivered to a UK project. With a number of offshore wind farms either expanding or under construction around the coast, it’s good news for the industry in the UK to have access to a local supplier.

What is Burbo Bank?
This is an existing offshore wind power plant situated off the coast of Liverpool on the Burbo Banks. It currently delivers 90 MW of capacity and has been operating for the last nine years. When a licence to expand the site was agreed for Dong Energy, Vestas were contacted to produce 32 turbines. The eventual capacity of Burbo Bank extension will be about 210 MW and provide electricity for thousands of homes across the UK.
Burbo Bank is an ideal place for wind farm development because of its shallow water depth which makes construction easier and the good general wind speeds all year around. The power blades from Vestas have now been delivered to Belfast where the turbines will be constructed and then transported to the Burbo Bank site.
Dong Energy is one of the biggest players in the world when it comes to wind power and have been involved in a number of major constructions over the last 20 years. While they also undertake oil and gas explorations, their portfolio has adapted and is more and more moving towards a renewable mix with the focus on wind power, biomass and thermal power.

About MHI Vestas
The company was set up during the Spring of 2014 so is a pretty new to the renewable energy market. A Danish outfit with a commitment to developing green technologies, they are hoping to be at the forefront of wind turbine development over the next few decades.
Jens Tommerup, the company CEO, said recently:

“It’s a significant milestone for the industry to see the world’s largest blades in serial production arriving in Belfast ready for installation. This marks the first time locally manufactured major components for offshore wind turbines are being used in the UK.”

The extension to the Burbo Bank site was welcomed by new business and energy secretary Greg Clark who has had his hands full in recent times over Hinkley Point nuclear power station. While on shore wind power has suffered with a mix of governmental reluctance and protests over the development of turbines on farmland, off shore has generally thrived. Around the UK there are now some 6,857 wind turbines delivering a total capacity of 13.9 GW, over 5 GW of this for off shore. By the end of December 2015, wind power was providing 17% of the energy mix in the UK which bodes well for the future.
Find out more about wind power.

The Solar Cells Producing Hydrocarbon Fuel


Can solar panel cells create more than just electricity from the sun? Apparently, researchers at the University of Illinois think they’ve discovered just that. Their new solar cells have been developed to turn CO2 into hydrocarbon fuel. Not only could this help us create energy but could also solve the problem of rising CO2 and carbon monoxide levels that are damaging the environment and a leading cause of global warming.

If you think that sounds just like what plants do, then you are not far off the mark. This new photosynthetic style cell doesn’t turn sunlight and CO2 into sugar, however, but can be used to form what the developers are calling synthetic gas, an end product which can then be burned or converted into diesel and other types of hydrocarbon fuel.

Illinois are not the only ones investigating this interesting possibility and there are a couple of amazing things that are getting the scientific world quite excited about its development. There’s the idea that you can reduce the level of CO2 in the atmosphere by building certain types of solar cell. But there’s also the potential that if you can produce the gas and liquid fuel cheaply enough then it could make fossil fuels completely obsolete.

Scientists have already found ways of turning another greenhouse gas, carbon monoxide, into ethanol. Changing CO2 into fuel, however, has proved more difficult despite our best efforts. The researchers have used compound called tungsten diselenide to do this and the initial results are looking good. The process has proved to work but there is still one major hurdle to be overcome.
The question, as always, with new inventions and processes is how scalable they are. While they have succeeded in producing hydrocarbon fuel in the laboratory setting, the next step will be to do it on a bigger, industrial scale. The bad news is that this is exactly where many processes and inventions fall down. The costs begin to escalate and it suddenly become unviable compared to existing methods such as using fossil fuels.

It’s one of the things that has been a challenge for the development of batteries to store renewable energy. While small banks of batteries can work for the home or office, creating these on a much larger scale so that they can be used by power stations is still proving elusive.

If the solar cells developed at Illinois can be replicated on a large scale, we could in future see big plants with a different kind of solar farm at the centre, producing valuable fuel that is cheap and easily sourced. The good news is that large companies such as Shell are already looking at synthetic gas production and this new solar induced solution could be part of their development in the future.

Illinois are not the only ones trying to harness this technology either. The SOLAR-JET consortium based in Germany is making big headway in hopefully creating jet fuel from sunlight, something that could revolutionise the airline industry. As with Illinois, success has been seen on a laboratory scale but raising the stakes and producing industrial scale amounts of aviation fuel is still a long way off.