Feeds

Shell pulls out of Thames Estuary mega-windfarm

Project could supply a thousandth of UK's energy

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

Oil giant Shell has pulled out of the world's biggest windfarm project, in a move which has cast doubt over the scheme's future.

The £2bn London Array, intended to be built in the Thames Estuary, will need to find a new backer in order to proceed.

For the London Array Project, Shell was partnered with UK power operator E.ON and Dong Energy, the firm behind much of the substantial Danish windpower base. E.ON chief Paul Golby has suggested that Shell's pullout could torpedo the scheme.

"Shell has introduced a new element of risk into the project which will need to be assessed," he told the Guardian.

"The current economics of the project are marginal at best," he added, citing steel costs and supply bottlenecks - and this despite the fact the UK government renewable energy quota system is currently said to be offering a bonanza for windpower operators.

(However, it has long been suggested that the current subsidy system is biased in favour of onshore wind as opposed to offshore.)

Offshore windfarm projects like the Array are thought by renewables advocates to be the main answer to the UK's energy needs. They could allow the construction of taller windmills than would be practical ashore; and would potentially be able to reap the benefit of more predictable winds, less affected by terrain and surface phenomena.

The London Array would be the biggest ever, filling the channel in the outer Thames Estuary between the Kentish Knock and Long Sands banks with up to 341 turbines. This is one of the few areas of the estuary where it wouldn't be in the middle of a heavily used shipping lane, though looking at typical vessel movement in the immediate area you'd have to say there's still some risk of collisions.

Shipping movements around the planned windfarm

The Array site shown in red on a plot of shipping movements.

According to the Array website:

When fully operational, it would make a substantial contribution to the UK Government’s renewable energy target of providing 10 per cent of the UK’s electricity from renewable sources by 2010... it is expected that the project would represent nearly 10 per cent of this target.

[The Array] would generate up to 1,000 MW of electricity ...

In summary, then, the entire Array would generate one per cent of the UK's electricity. Windfarm planners like to describe their capacity in terms of maximum possible output, assuming all turbines spinning at best speed - this is the 1,000 megawatts referred to above.

In reality, the wind is seldom blowing at just the right speed. Sometimes the turbines stop altogether, due to flat calms or strong gales; mostly they run at much less than max output.

According to this pdf (page 3) from the Array, on average the project would put out 3,100 gigawatt-hours per annum, equating to average output of 354 megawatts rather than 1,000.

Is that one per cent of the UK's leccy? Not quite. The government says Blighty used 351.4 terawatt-hours in 2006, or 351,400 gigawatt-hours. The London Array at full poke could have delivered 0.88 per cent of that; on current trends, by the time it's built you'd be looking at 0.77 or so.

Still, it sounds better to say "we will deliver nearly 10 per cent of the government's target" than "we will deliver a fraction of a percentage point of the UK's electricity".

And electricity is just one of the ways we use energy. There's also transport fuel, gas, heating oil, etc. The UK actually used a total of 2,700 terawatt hours of energy in 2006. (Full gov details in pdf here. The conversions between tons of oil and gigawatt-hours are at the back.)

That's a ballpark figure for how much we'd need in order to switch to electric or hydrogen transport, stop using gas heating, to generally stop emitting carbon and be ready for the inevitable post-fossil-energy future.

(That is, stop emitting carbon due to energy usage. We and the cows would still be puffing away, though presumably that would be OK. And all this assumes that the spikes and troughs in renewables output are being dealt with by millions of plugged-in electric car batteries or something.)

In other words, the mighty London Array, fully operational, would deliver roughly a thousandth of Blighty's energy needs. You can see why Shell doesn't view it as a critical part of its future business. ®

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
The next big thing in medical science: POO TRANSPLANTS
Your brother's gonna die, kid, unless we can give him your, well ...
Post-pub nosh neckfiller: The MIGHTY Scotch egg
Off to the boozer? This delicacy might help mitigate the effects
I'M SO SORRY, sobs Rosetta Brit boffin in 'sexist' sexy shirt storm
'He is just being himself' says proud mum of larger-than-life physicist
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
5 critical considerations for enterprise cloud backup
Key considerations when evaluating cloud backup solutions to ensure adequate protection security and availability of enterprise data.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Simplify SSL certificate management across the enterprise
Simple steps to take control of SSL across the enterprise, and recommendations for a management platform for full visibility and single-point of control for these Certificates.