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Abu Dhabi emir rescues Thames Estuary mega-windfarm

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The government of Abu Dhabi has stepped in to rescue the financially-troubled London Array mega-windfarm project, intended to build a massive forest of turbines in the middle of the Thames estuary.

In a deal inked today, the Masdar Initiative of the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (ADFEC) acquired 20 per cent of the Array project from energy operator E.ON. ADFEC is wholly owned by the government of Abu Dhabi - in effect by the current emir, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, who is also president of the UAE.

E.ON retains a 30 per cent stake, and the other half of the Array will continue to be owned by DONG Energy of Denmark. The project had been stalled following the departure of oil giant Shell in May, but will now be able to move forward.

The London Array project enjoys strong backing from the UK government (though not as strong as that from Abu Dhabi, of course).

“This is an excellent example of the partnership we need between oil-producing and oil-consuming countries to develop new energy sources and technologies, diversifying their economies and reducing our dependence on carbon," said Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The new minister for energy and climate change, Ed Miliband, also welcomed the influx of petrodollars.

"Over the next decade, offshore wind will make an important contribution to meeting the UK's renewable energy target and to the security of our energy supply," he said. "Offshore wind is a rapidly growing sector, with the potential to provide up to 70,000 new, green jobs."

The Array is expected to begin coming on line from 2012, and will provide as much as one thousandth of the UK's present energy needs when it reaches full capacity. The government and the project's backers prefer to say that it will generate "enough power for three-quarters of a million homes".

They'd need to be very dark, cold homes full of smelly people wearing dirty clothes and eating their food raw. An average UK household uses 22,795 kilowatt hours a year as of 2001: thus 750,000 such homes would require more than 17,000 gigawatt-hours annually. But the Array will produce only 3,100 gigawatt-hours. (PDF, page 3. The old renewables fudge of only considering electricity consumption - and forgetting about the more significant gas or heating oil - has been used.)

So actually the Array will provide enough power for about 135,000 normal UK households. On average, that is - there will have to be gas-turbine backup too, and they will probably be exceptionally dirty and inefficient turbines.

So perhaps the emir isn't doing us all that big a favour after all. ®

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