For centuries, Scotland’s deep waters have proved themselves a source of sustenance for fisherman and oilmen alike.
Now Scotland is looking again to the hostile environments of its deepest seas to harness energy – but this time it isn’t what’s under the seabed that counts, but the wild winds which roar across its surface.
Last month Norwegian company Statoil announced an agreement had been reached with the Crown Estate to site the UK’s first floating wind turbines in the Buchan Deep, between 12 and 20 miles east of Peterhead.
If Statoil’s plans are approved by Scottish Government ministers, and its Hywind turbines prove themselves a success, the five 6MW (megawatt) structures will give fresh energy to Scotland’s offshore sector, and allow engineers to access some of the most promising wind sites in Europe.
Scotland’s offshore wind potential is huge: we have around a quarter of the entire European resource. Our challenge, however, is that much of this resource is sited in deep waters, which are more difficult (and therefore more costly) to develop than the shallower seas around England and Wales.
Working in these conditions, though, has put Scotland at the forefront of the design, development and installation of deep water structures – like the support structures built by Burntisland Fabrications for the two 5MW Beatrice demonstration turbines in the Moray Firth and since installed in other European offshore wind farms.
Statoil’s Hywind turbine, which the company has been testing off the Norwegian coast since 2010, offers an innovative way to install large turbines in waters up to 200 metres deep.
The device, anchored to the ocean floor by cables, is iceberg-like in its simplicity. A third of the structure stands above the waves, while the majority, a ballast tank filled with water and rocks, hangs below, keeping the tower stable in North Sea gusts of up to 140 mph.
Statoil, like all large renewables developers, must now satisfy the Scottish Government that its scheme merits planning permission. If it succeeds, the world will be watching to see if this innovative technology can further cement Scotland’s reputation as a global wind energy leader.
• Jenny Hogan is director of policy at Scottish Renewables