Offshore wind farms protect fish from trawlers, study finds

» By | Published 02 Jul 2010 |

As the stories previously reported on this blog will tell you, the world is beginning to make changes towards a low carbon economy, and, the potential of offshore wind power in driving this change in the energy sector is now being realised.

Offshore wind, key in fighting climate change, does have an impact on marine environments  – something which researchers and offshore wind developers are aware of and are developing their knowledge.

A new study, ‘Greening Blue Energy’, published by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and written in collaboration with E.ON and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, discusses offshore wind farms and their effects on marine biodiversity.

In the long term, offshore wind farms can be beneficial to the local ecosystems, the study finds. One of the biggest ways wind farms achieve this is in protecting marine species from trawling – among the most severe threat to the marine environment.

Environmentalists criticise trawling for its lack of selectivity – sweeping up both desired and non-desired fish of legal and illegal size. Tons of unwanted fish are discarded each year, dying needlessly.

“Long term trawling exclusion enhances abundance of several species of fish within the whole wind farm area and the effects can be considered large,” states the study.

Boulders that are used to protect the foundations of wind turbines can also offer shelter to marine species by acting as a kind of artificial reef. “It is certain that the wind turbines and scour protections will function as artificial reefs for several species of fish,” the study says.

However, during the construction phase in particular, an offshore wind farm can disturb the marine environment by the noise created, electromagnetic fields and changed water conditions.

“Moving away from oil, gas and coal is vital to avoid the worse impacts of climate change, in this context on marine ecosystems,” says Dan Wilhelmsson, Scientific Coordinator at IUCN and co-author of the report. “At the same time, we need to make sure that what we call blue energy, which includes the offshore renewable sources, is also green and doesn’t exacerbate existing stresses on the marine environment.”

The IUCN urges more research and thorough maritime spatial planning to minimise the risks: “Continued careful monitoring of offshore wind energy developments and their actual impacts on marine wildlife will be vital to generate reliable data and help ensure that offshore wind energy fulfils its sustainable potential,” said Nadine McCormick from the IUCN.

Offshore wind energy development in the European Union is accelerating and could potentially supply 12-16% of the EU’s electricity by 2030, the equivalent of 25,000 wind turbines, the IUCN says.

Read the report and have your say by commenting below.


World’s first 6 MW turbine park

» By | Published 25 May 2010 |

Eleven turbine towers, six of which are already connected to the electricity grid providing power to thousands of homes, stand tall and proud on the Levant de Mons plateau near Estinnes, Belgium. It’s a grey, cold day when we visit and the wind’s obvious strength is turning the blades at a consistent rate of knots.

What’s different about these turbines is the sheer amount of power they can produce – at 6 MW each they are the largest ever to be installed on land. Once all these impressive machines are connected to the grid, they will provide power for 50,000 homes – more than enough to keep the lights on in nearby town Mons.

Built by Enercon, these E-126 turbines sit on a 27 metre-large concrete foundation and are connected to the electricity grid via 11km of underground cables. Installing them requires one of the world’s largest cranes and hefty lorries capable of transporting the turbine and its components from the factory in Germany to the farm in Belgium.

We pick our way through the pools of mud surrounding the turbines and go inside a turbine tower where the noise of electricity-generation is intense. The tower is 131 metres tall and inside is a panel indicating just how much electricity is being produced at the time, wind speed and direction, and whether or not the turbine is connected to the grid. WindVision, the company developing the project, estimates that annually the Estinnes turbines will produce 187,000,000 kWh of electricity.

Back outside and close-up to the tower, today, the noise is no louder than the sound of the wind or traffic passing on the nearby main road. In addition, turbines are now slowed down at night to reduce sound from the wind turbines reaching residents.

Local children have already adorned the grey towers with wind-friendly messages such as “les éoliennes, c’est cool,” and “je suis folle des éoliennes.”

Once the Estinnes park has been completed, WindVision hopes 6 MW turbines will be installed across Europe.


European wind and cable industries are world leaders

» By | Published 04 May 2010 |

Christian KjaerAt the Europacable annual general meeting in Paris last week I raised the astounding fact that after 24 years of a single European market in goods, services, people and capital, we still do not have the fifth freedom: the free of movement of electricity. We urgently need to establish this. Europe’s current supply structure still bears the characteristics of the fossil-fuel powered time in which it was developed. It is national in nature, the technologies applied are ageing and the markets supporting it are underdeveloped.

Modern electricity infrastructure is the pre-condition to this fifth freedom and one in which Europacable plays a vital role. Over the next 12 years, Europe must use the opportunity created by the large turnover in capacity to construct a new, modern power system capable of meeting the energy and climate challenges of the 21st century. We need interconnected grids that create corridors of trade in electricity in Europe that will bring down prices for consumers.

We also need to introduce a smarter management of the electricity sector adjusting the rules and regulations on the supply side to meet the needs of wind energy. This must include shorter gate closure times so that the providers of wind energy can give two hours notice instead of two days notice of the amount of power they will supply. New rules must reflect the fact that for the last two years the majority of new electricity capacity installed was wind.

On the demand side we must move towards a more intelligent pricing of electricity giving consumers better price signals so that non-essential electricity consumption can be moved to times of lower demand.

The European cable industry and the European wind industry are both world leaders; they have this strong point in common. We can work together to create a European policy agenda that favours a better electricity infrastructure, bringing more and more wind power online and driving down prices for consumers.