THE number of wind farms across the UK could be almost doubled following Scottish trials of a revolutionary radar system that is expected to end safety concerns over installing turbines near airports.
Scotland on Sunday has learned that the first live demonstration of the 3D holographic radar, carried out at Prestwick Airport last week, successfully proved the technology’s ability to detect the difference between aircraft and the movement of turbine blades, which it can block out individually on air traffic control screens.
Existing 2D radar systems also offer a solution to the problem but are unable to identify each turbine with the same level of accuracy, resulting in airports opposing numerous wind farm developments north and south of the Border on safety grounds because of fears that screens will be filled with “clutter” caused by the rotating turbines.
Holographic radar developer Aveillant believes that if more detailed tests are passed the new system could be operating commercially by the end of the year – paving the way for objections to be lifted over hundreds of turbines which it believes could allow nearly twice as many wind farms to be granted approval UK-wide as there are at present.
Latest statistics from green energy body RenewableUK revealed that 6.2GW worth of proposed wind farm developments – equating to roughly 2,700 turbines – have been held up over aviation safety fears.
David Crisp, chief executive at Aveillant, said: “This is the first live demonstration of the radar and it has gone fantastically well.
“We have had very good feedback from wind farm developers and the Civil Aviation Authority, and will be doing more detailed risk assessments to meet the CAA’s standards.
“It’s an interesting thing to demonstrate because we are basically showing that there is nothing to see. Normal radar sweeps around once every four seconds. Holographic 3D radar is the next generation technology, going round four times per second, or 16 times faster.
“The first aim was to prove that the 3D radar can differentiate between aircraft and turbines, which was clearly demonstrated. The second aim was to show that the holographic radar can be integrated with airport radar, which happened seamlessly.
“If all those objections shown in the RenewableUK data last year were removed you could almost double the amount of wind farms in the UK. This will have a huge impact in Scotland, which is, quite rightly I think, very committed to wind power and has a very good wind climate compared to England.”
The radar was demonstrated on turbines at Millour Hill wind farm, a development near Prestwick which is not in a location that causes any safety issues. However, the number of major wind farms planned in the area which airport management has identified as posing a safety risk is in double figures.
Prestwick Airport chief executive Iain Cochrane said: “There are at least ten significant wind farm developments in the planning process that would cause us a problem, which is why we are seeking to develop a solution.”
The radar has received £500,000 in funding from the Aviation Investment Fund Company Limited (AIFCL), a consortium of wind farm developers working to find solutions to problems involving airports.
AIFCL chairman Simon Heyes, who witnessed the trials, said: “To see what we have heard so much about has been really good. It certainly takes us a step forward to our goal of getting wind farms constructed where they currently are held up by objections from airports.”
RenewableUK denied the claim that withdrawing all aviation-based objections would double the number of wind- farms, pointing out that existing developments currently generate a total of 9.9GW.
It added that not all of the proposed sites would be commercially attractive in the current economic climate and generally across the UK only 50 per cent of all wind farm applications are approved.
However, Scottish Renewables was more positive. And it estimated that up to half of all wind farm applications held up over aviation concerns were in Scotland.
Joss Blamire, senior policy manager for Scottish Renewables, said: “For a number of years the industry has been working extensively to understand how wind farms interact with radars used by the aviation industry ... This has resulted in major investments being made to find innovative solutions to tackle the issue.
“Scottish Renewables welcomes the new research and technology being tested by Aveillant and hopes to work with companies like them, along with the Scottish Government and the aviation industry, to find a solution to remove this significant barrier to the development of onshore wind in Scotland.”
Community Windpower, the developer of Millour Hill, was also optimistic.
A spokesman said: “We know there are aviation issues in certain areas of Scotland so we keep away from them [but] the trials will hopefully lead to the release of some of these areas.”
Meanwhile anti-wind-farm campaigners dismissed the technology and warned that the trials would fuel more speculative planning applications for wind farms.
Graham Lang, of Scotland against Spin, said: “Radar constraints are one of the only brakes on the development free-for-all the Scottish Government has handed the wind industry, and many people’s hearts will sink at this news.”