Is the UK’s Surge into Offshore Wind a Glimpse of Things to Come?

(3BL Media/Justmeans) — It’s a great example of how regulation can lead to innovation. When the UK government took the surprising move of first ending subsides for onshore wind and then banning new development outright, it raised howls of protest from environmental groups, among others, as a step backwards in the march to a clean energy future.

Few could have anticipated that, only a short time later, the UK would become the world leader in offshore wind. A precipitous drop in costs, along with a strong determination to not lose ground on the renewables front, has led to a point where the Hornsea project, capable of powering one million homes, has come in at a cost of £57.50 ($76) per MW, a price that is competitive with natural gas in the US.

Danish Oil and Natural Gas (DONG), which is now, as a sign of the times, changing its name to Ørsted, in honor of Hans Christian Ørsted, the Danish physicist who first discovered the relationship between magnetic fields and electric currents, the principle at the heart of wind turbines, was instrumental in achieving these prices. Their Hornsea project 2, will cover some 185 square miles.

There is a great deal of excitement around these developments. Paula Cocazza waxes poetic in a Guardian story Wild is the Wind, suggesting that wind power is, “the resource that could power the world.”

That idea comes from Stanford Climate Scientist Ken Caldeira, who says that a mere 2% of the world’s wind, could supply all of the world’s energy needs. Caldeira goes so far as to suggest that a single offshore wind farm in the North Atlantic, could hypothetically achieve this. It would, however, need to be the size of India. That’s roughly 6,850 times the size of Hornsea 2.

Of course, there are a number of issues with such a proposal, but Caldeira has a solid answer for at least one of them. Very large wind farms tend to run into the problem of wind turbines interfering with one another. But Caldeira describes certain regions in the North Atlantic where heat rises up out of the water, that could potentially drive turbines from below, which would overcome the interference issue. It should be noted that Caldeira is not recommending that such an enormity be built. “Better to have many very large ones,” he told the Guardian.

Still, it points to the tremendous potential of wind, a resource that we may have only scratched the surface of. The next frontier beyond offshore, may be airborne wind turbines. The idea of using kites to harness the wind, has been floated by many sources, including India’s Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, which is looking into traction kites as a way to meet their target of 60 GW of wind power to be installed by 2022. According to Caldeira, the jet stream is really where the action is. He says it’s “the largest, most concentrated renewable energy source on the planet, 20 times as potent in every square metre as direct sunlight in the middle of the day”.

If indeed the wind is boundless, so too might be our opportunities to harness it.