Saturday, December 18, 2010

East Riding offshore wind

Wikipedia photo of a "jack-up" barge installing wind turbine foundations in the UK's North Sea waters.

It's always interesting to me when happenstance or geography forge links between any of "my" places.

The East Riding of Yorkshire, soon to be a major site for offshore wind development, was where my parents kept a vacation trailer when I was a kid, and the moors nearby were a popular patrol area when I was in RAF Mountain Rescue.

(The old North, East, and West Ridings of Yorkshire were former administrative subdivisions of this very large county, which was and is larger and more populous than several American states. They were phased out in the 1970s under attempts to consolidate county government and reduce costs. "Us" Yorkshiremen still use the old nomenclature for geographical reference and cultural meaning. The East Riding nomenclature, or simply "East Yorkshire" was recently restored.)

Even the RAF Fylingdales' "golf balls" on those moors used to be an identical DEW-line sister-station to the Charleston, Maine station where we are currently collecting wind data for the state of Maine. Although when systems were upgraded, Fylingdales continued in use, while at Charleston the only use for the slowly rotting steel pedestals that held the former radomes is as a research platform for our wind study!

The East Riding is well worth a visit, a great place for walks along the sea shore or moors, for fresh cod and chips and great bitter beer, and for beach holidays for the kids. One day, when I'm retired or perhaps a part-time professor, I hope to spend more time in all my old haunts, and we won't neglect the East Riding.

So I was fascinated to read this article on the hopes for an offshore boom there.

The descriptions of life in Grimsby during this recession sound a good deal like those in Bath, Maine, currently, except that at BIW it's the continued orders for destroyers and AEGIS cruisers that keep the yards, and families, afloat.

Of course, the overall scale of the UK's east coast wind farms are going to be almost an order of magnitude larger than the first generation of Maine offshore platforms will be. And a good deal easier to build, since the North Sea is a shallow sea, quite unlike the Gulf of Maine.

But the manufacturing and employment conditions are not dissimilar, while the grid-tie implications are quite comparable. The UK uses coal for electricity still, despite Thatcherite attempts to gut the former socialized coal-mining industry of northern England and Wales. The largest UK coal-fired power stations are in the former East and West Ridings. The government target is to reduce dependence on this climate-altering coal, as well as unreliable and mobbed-up Russian gas, by producing a very large portion of the UK's electricity supply using wind power. A massive DC "ring main" will facilitate the dispatch of this electricity to other North Sea countries.

The ambition of the project is considerable, and heartening, especially compared to the pessimism of US projections for coal, such as were found on Andrew Revkin's NYT blog yesterday.

Although Habib Dagher is a talented and ambitious man, with a great team working for him.

And if the British can build a giant wind farm on the Dogger Bank, I'm forced to wonder if Mainers might one day build on the shallower portions of the Georges Bank, of if the Newfoundlanders might use Sable Island.

So I don't quite share this pessimism. Which is a good job, since our students need to be encouraged, not discouraged.

All of us who work in the green energy and climate business have to have some positive vision, or we'd be wracked by fear for the future and made helpless and immobile.

So read the article and reflect on the fact that some folks, here and there around the world, are working to make cheap, efficient, climate-neutral energy a reality, at scale, on the ground.

Or in the water, as the case may be.

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