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Do biggest ever turbines point the way for a wind-powered UK?

Joseph Flaig

The Burbo Bank Extension offshore wind farm (Credit: Dong Energy)
The Burbo Bank Extension offshore wind farm (Credit: Dong Energy)

The biggest wind turbines in the world have started work in the Irish Sea.

Engineers hope the new turbines point the way for an industry which could provide more than 25 % of the UK’s required energy.

Danish company Dong Energy and partners PKA and Kirkbi A/S turned on the Burbo Bank Extension off the coast of Liverpool this week. The 32 giant turbines are the biggest ever used, with a diameter of 164m – bigger than the London Eye’s 120m. The extension to the original 25-turbine Burbo Bank farm can meet the electricity demand for more than 230,000 homes.

Each of the 8MW wind turbines provides more energy than the total output from the world’s first offshore wind farm, which Dong built 25 years ago in Vindeby, Denmark. Turbines will keep getting bigger because they are more economical to install than smaller designs, said engineering professor Guy Houlsby, whose department at Oxford University has received funding from Dong.

“In the end, there is a limit to how big you can make these things - strength of materials and that sort of thing,” he told Professional Engineering. “The question is, when will we reach that limit? We haven’t reached it yet, they are still growing. People are talking about 10MW devices, maybe even more.”

Offshore wind power will continue to grow and provide a considerable part of the UK’s energy requirement if other challenges are overcome, said Houlsby, who worked with Dong on designs for the underwater parts of the turbines.

Wind power was estimated to provide 17 % of UK electricity generation in 2015. “It could easily provide around 25 % of UK electricity, possibly more if the grid can be adapted in an appropriate manner. One of the keys to future developments will be if very large scale storage can be provided, which would overcome the problem that wind power is of course intermittent," Houlsby added.

Dong is building a new multi-million pound facility in Merseyside to operate the original Burbo Bank and the new extension.

The new farm “showcases the rapid innovation in the offshore wind industry,” said Dong chief executive Henrik Poulsen. “Less than ten years ago at Burbo Bank, we were the first to install Siemens 3.6MW wind turbines and in this short time, the wind turbines have more than doubled in capacity. Pushing innovation in this way reduces the cost of electricity from offshore wind and will help to advance the offshore wind industry across the world.”

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