EWEA feels the power of offshore wind power

Sparkling on the horizon from the Belgian seaside resort of Oostende stands the Thornton Bank offshore wind farm. One windy day last week the EWEA team set out to see these wind turbines – six tall towers which form phase one of the offshore wind farm’s development – up close and personal.

At some 30km from the coast the 5 MW C-Power wind turbines are part of the world’s first wind farm to be built so far from the shore. Nearly two hours by boat led to a few queasy passengers, but finally we reached our destination and were able to view the wind turbines standing proud in the middle of the North Sea rooted into the Belgian Continental Shelf.

Nearby the six original wind turbines, foundations are being laid for the second stage of development – another 24 wind turbines of 6.15 MW due to be built in 2011 – 2013. A third phase – another 24 6 MW wind turbines – is also planned.

The wind turbines seem isolated in their own maritime world, but there is a whole array of competing interests for the sea that led to their precise location. The farm’s planners had to take into account fishing zones, zones used for military drills and anti-mine activities, the large number of gas pipelines and telecommunication cables that cross Belgian territorial waters, wildlife preservation areas under EU nature protection rules, shipping lanes through the North Sea and from Zeebrugge and radar supervision zones of the shipping routes. And that’s in addition to finding sand banks large enough to support a wind farm.

Belgium’s Thornton Bank wind farm once fully completed will have a total installed capacity of 325 MW which will provide enough electricity to power 600,000 households with renewable energy. The wind energy project on its own will represent 10% of Belgium’s renewable energy target for 2020, avoiding 450,000 tonnes of carbon emissions per year. It’s quite impressive to think that just 54 turbines can achieve this.

Heading back to shore watching the wind turbines get smaller and smaller on the horizon with a wind whipping across the deck, you become aware of the unlimited power in the wind, and particular offshore. A European Environment Agency study found that Europe’s offshore wind power’s potential in 2020 is 2,600 TWh equal to between 60% and 70% of the projected EU electricity demand by that time – only out at sea with the feel of the wind on your face can you sense how true that is.

By Zoë Casey,  http://blog.ewea.org/