Industry Intel

A Brief History of UK Wind Energy.

Adam Ross

Principal Consultant | Renewables

Jan 10, 2023

Now, more than ever, we are looking at what our government are doing to produce greener energy.

Global natural disasters and the current economic crises we’re living through, which are all closely linked to the use and limitations of fossil fuels, make this topic personal. We want to protect our way of life. We want to ensure we’re passing on a healthy world to the next generation. We want sustainability.

There is hope.

Our political leaders have promised to take climate change seriously, and to make the UK a world leader in green energy; by 2030, the British Energy Security Strategy aims to provide 95% of electricity from low carbon sources, with huge investments being put towards Wind Energy development, such as The Dogger Bank Project. The Dogger Bank Wind Farm will be located just off the North Sea and will be so vast that it’ll span across UK, German, Danish and even Dutch waters.

Set to be the world’s largest offshore Wind Farm, Dogger Bank is currently split into three parts: Dogger Bank A, B, C, and Sofia, with A looking to be operation just next year. The turbines that are being installed are Haliade-X; just to give you some perspective, in case you’re unfamiliar, these turbines are 260 meters high with a 150m diameter rotor, meaning they’re almost 3 times the width of the Angel of the North.

There are lots of promising, innovative and exciting news coming from the experts in the renewables sector, but before we delve too far into the future of wind energy, we need to look at where we started, what we’ve learned, and how far we’ve come.

The First Turbines:

To start us off, we’re going way back 1887, when the first turbine that could generate electricity was created. Located up in the highlands of Scotland, James Blyth based his invention on the structure and design of an anemometer, which is used to measure wind speed and direction. The design was nicknamed the ‘windmill’, and when you look at the design, you can clearly see its’ influence… though it’s more of a horizontal windmill.

Whatever your personal opinions on the aesthetics of the design, it worked. Blyth’s turbine was able to generate enough power to run his entire cottage. Although he did also offer to give the surplus electricity back to his community, they declined, as they believed that electricity was the work of the devil (little did they know that this was a landmark moment in time)!

Over the next 100 years, more engineers/inventors developed other notable variations of Blyth’s Turbine, such as Poul la Cour who birthed the Wind Turbine society in 1903, and Georges Jean Marie Darrieus who, in 1926, created the turbine that most closely reflects those that we see today.

In regards to the UK’s journey with the use of wind turbines, despite the original inventor being British born, we were a bit late to the party…

The UK’s First Wind Farm:

Blyth offshore windfarm was the UKs first offshore windfarm and has been operating since the year 2000. The farm consists of turbines manufactured by Vestas; 47 countries have installed it as, at the time, it was the biggest in the world, with a capacity of 2MW. To put this into perspective, the average household uses 800-900watts of electricity per day, so 2MW could, in theory, power around 1800 homes.

Though this farm wasn’t large by any stretch of the imagination, consisting of just 2 turbines, it was a revolutionary step in the renewables sector, as this turbine far surpassed any others in existence at the time with its’ performance and reliability.

Blyth was just a starting point for the UK’s offshore renewables market, and 2 years later, the first commercial wind farm was established; The North Hoyle offshore wind farm was home to 30 of these Vesta Turbines, bringing the total offshore output to 64MW. So in just 2 years, the UK’s offshore renewable output had launched forward an astounding amount, opening doors for the future of the offshore wind sector.

We’re well on our way to achieving the government’s target of reducing UK carbon emissions by 68% by the year 2030

Moving Forward…

In terms of where we are now, from an outside perspective, it doesn’t appear as though things have drastically changed; naturally, the turbines have become more reliable and powerful, the blades are bigger, and the towers stand taller.

But what does this mean?

These changes in design allow for far greater results; the larger blades make the turbines capable of generating more power by rotation, and longer towers mean they can now be deployed further out at sea. With the capability to run further out at sea, the turbines benefit from more consistent wind speeds, meaning that energy levels can be sustained for longer periods of time, unlike their onshore counterparts.

There are also more innovative designs in development, such as ‘floating turbines’; quite literally, a floating turbine is a turbine that floats. This type of turbine is anchored into place, allowing it to move more freely without the need for concrete. This is an innovative idea, as this reduces location limitations and their effects on the surrounding marine life ecology, making them far more cost effective.

We’ll discuss these innovative new developments in more detail in a future blog, but as UK wind energy currently stands, we are generating 13.66GW of energy through offshore wind farms alone, with a further 2.73GW under construction. Again, just to put this into perspective, this is enough to power 12.2 million homes (on average).

We’re well on our way to achieving the government’s target of reducing UK carbon emissions by 68% by the year 2030; according to gov.co.uk, between April '21 and March '22, we built 37164 new homes, which means we need to produce a minimum 33MW of renewable energy a year to stay ahead. The UK currently has 44.44GW already in development, with a further 3.87GW waiting to start development, and 16.06GW awaiting planning permission. The future is looking green indeed!

We hope you’ve found this informative and are left feeling as excited about the future of the UK’s offshore wind sector as we are.

We’ll discuss what this future currently looks like in our next blog, which will include expanding on projects such as Dogger Bank and Floating Wind Farms.

If you have any questions in the meantime, though, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

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Principal Consultant | Renewables

Adam Ross

Having joined Oyster in October 2018 – his first role in recruitment – Adam now manages multiple teams in our Renewables sector. Such is his influence, his leadership skills are ensuring the individuals under his wing are all successful in their own right. It’s a clear sign of Adam’s determination to succeed. Which he certainly is doing.

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