A good update from NetZeroWatch.com on the RSPB again warning the Government’s on its planned expansion of offshore wind power.

Their warning coincides with the publication of a new Net Zero Watch factsheetfn which shows the extraordinary scale of the industrialisation planned for UK seas.

This follows the RSPB's expressed concerns to the government in April 2019, when Orsted gave insufficient answers during consultations on the 3rd Hornsea offshore wind turbine project, given the go-ahead (late on New Years Eve by Alok Sharma MP days before he left to become COP26 President) on the extinction level threat to Kittiwake seabirds. Already on the red list for endangered species.

All the countries around the North Sea have programmes in place to develop offshore wind energy. The UK has been at the forefront of these efforts, and now has over 10 GW of capacity in operation. However, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark all have growing offshore wind fleets.

Map 1 shows current windfarm projects, both operational and those where specific plans are in place for individual windfarms.

Source: Andrew Montford
Source: Andrew Montford

By the time Hornsea 4 comes on stream in 2027, the national offshore wind capacity will have risen to above 20 GW.

In contrast, the other countries bordering the North Sea have relatively modest offshore wind fleets. But plans to fully decarbonise the economy are taking place across the EU. This will necessitate a major expansion of offshore wind capacity.

Map 2 adds the offshore wind development zones instituted by countries bordering the North Sea. It also shows a ‘Net Zero’ scenario for the Netherlands.

Source: Andrew Montford
Source: Andrew Montford

The extent of the planned industrialisation of the North Sea becomes clear – windfarms from the Thames estuary to the Danish Straits.

The existence of a development zone does not imply that windfarms will be built on them in practice. The area of the EU development zones is around 30,000 square kilometres.

At the often cited figure of 6 MW/km2, that would deliver 180 GW of capacity, against a target of 300 GW.fn

The English development zone would be more than enough for its immediate target of 40 GW, or the 75 GW that the Committee on Climate Change advises is needed to achieve ‘Net Zero’.

However, building windfarms too close together has been causing difficulties for the industryfn. "Following advanced analysis of a long list Ørsted determined it had underestimated the negative impact of blockage and wake effects."

The blockage effect arises from the wind slowing down as it approaches the turbines. There is an individual blockage effect for every single turbine and a blockage effect for the whole wind farm, which is larger than the sum of the individual effects.

There is a wake with each turbine where the wind speeds are reduced again, affecting nearby turbines and even neighbouring wind farms. Ørsted and possibly the whole industry, have previously failed to assess the real impact of such effects.

Nonetheless new developments are being planned at power densities of 2 or 3 MW/km2. If that figure is the new normal, then a much larger area of windfarms will be required to deliver the targets.

Even if these developments were economically viable, industrialisation of the marine environment of this scale is highly questionable, and in other circumstances Green NGOs should be offering stiff opposition.

But as is now increasingly well-understood, the economics of offshore wind in Europe are unsound, with CAPEX remaining high and OPEX rising.

Most of the projects described are likely to require continuing non-market subsidy, without which their owners would become bankrupt leaving a gigantic decommissioning disaster in the North Sea, never mind the loss of sea-faring birdlife. Something to think about if you are a RSPB donator whilst going along with the states' "Net zero" push.

Professor Gordon Hughes of University of Edinburgh and former Senior Adviser on Energy & Environmental Policy at the World Bank gave a good presentation on the economic fallacy of UK wind turbines for those interested in sustainable energy bills.

Further Net Zero Sense posts here.

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