Full blown: building the world’s largest offshore windfarm in the UK

If you’ve heard of Dogger Bank, a large sandbank around 130 km off the North East coast of England, it’s quite likely to have been as part of the shipping forecast on the radio.

 

But soon, it will be home to the world’s largest offshore wind farm, capable of producing a whopping 3.6GW of electricity, enough to power 5 million homes, or about 5 per cent of total UK demand.

5 millions home powered infographic

Dogger Bank breaks the bounds of what size an offshore wind farm can be. The £9bn wind farm will have a lifetime of up to 35 years, and is operated by Equinor.

The project, a 50:50 joint venture between Equinor and SSE Renewables, is being built in three equal phases, with Italy’s Eni taking a 20% stake in the first two phases.

When the first 13MW turbines start to turn in 2023, a single sweep of their 220- metre rotors will produce enough electricity to power the average UK home for two days. The project will be the first to use these turbines from GE, the most powerful turbines currently in operation, a sign of just how far offshore wind has come over the past decade, confounding the expectations of even its most ardent proponents.

5 millions home powered infographic

13MW turbines

A single sweep of their 220-metre rotors will produce enough electricity to power the average UK home for two days

Five to six years ago, the cost of offshore wind was £150/MWh. Now it is well below the wholesale price

Megan Smith, Head of offshore wind advisory.

"Five to six years ago, the cost of offshore wind was £150/MWh. Now it is well below the wholesale price", says Megan Smith, Head of Offshore Wind Advisory at the Carbon Trust, which runs the Offshore Wind Accelerator, an initiative to cut costs in the sector. "One of the main drivers in cost reduction is the increase in the size of the turbines."

Turbine height vs capacity

Source: Offshore Wind Sector Deal, GOV.UK, 2020 ctbuh.org

Dogger Bank won contracts at record-low prices in 2019, meaning when it generates electricity from 2023, it will be essentially subsidy-free.

Because of its long distance from shore, the project will be the first UK offshore wind farm to use High Voltage DC (HVDC) cables to transport the power back inland. Too much power would be lost if AC cables were used.

How power from Dogger Bank will be transmitted to the national electricity network

offshore wind power transfer infographic

Source: Dogger Bank Wind Farm by SSE Renewables and Equinor, October 2020

The 1,700 km2 project, covering an area larger than Greater London, is set to make a significant contribution to the UK economy – the project’s installation base for phases A and B will be at Able Seaton Port in Hartlepool, where 120 jobs will be created and more than 200 people will eventually operate the wind farm.

Area of Dogger Bank offshore wind farm compared to Greater London

infographic of greater London area
300 jobs created in the North East of England

An operations and maintenance base will be built at the Port of Tyne, one of only two deep water ports in the North East of England.

Dogger Bank fits the Port of Tyne’s strategy to develop a 2050 Maritime Innovation Hub, focused on technology such as clean energy, autonomous systems, artificial intelligence, smart sensors, block-chain and big data analytics. “We want to create a clean energy cluster for the region,” says CEO of the Port of Tyne, Matt Beeton.

The port is also building a 200-acre clean energy park dedicated to renewable energy companies. “There is a real swell of excitement. It’s clear that this will bring jobs to an area of high unemployment,” he adds. “Having the biggest wind farm in the world off the coast here creates a real opportunity to develop the whole economy.”

Having the biggest wind farm in the world off the coast here creates a real opportunity to develop the whole economy.

Matt Beeton, CEO, Port of Tyne

Cable ducting on the onshore construction site for Dogger Bank A and B. Image Source: Dogger Bank Wind Farm by SSE Renewables and Equinor

When Equinor got involved in Dogger Bank a decade ago, the UK’s entire offshore wind capacity was 1.3GW, around the same as one phase of this project. “It really puts into context how ground-breaking it was at the time. We were betting on technology that didn’t exist yet,” says Equinor’s former head of wind energy, Stephen Bull. “Our initial business case was for 2,000 turbines but we will end up with just 15% of that number. The speed of development has been phenomenal.

“This project is a game changer in our exposure to offshore wind and a big step towards our ambition to increase our renewables capacity to 30 times what it is today, by 2035, and become a global offshore wind major,” Bull adds.

We have an ambition to increase our renewables capacity to 30 times what it is today by 2035.

Stephen Bull, Senior Vice President for renewables, Equinor.

That ambition will be achieved by building up regional clusters, like in the North Sea. The region is the epicentre of offshore wind because it is shallow enough to allow turbines to be fixed to the seabed. But many other countries with plentiful wind resources, such as France, South Korea and Japan, have much deeper coastlines, making them unsuitable for bottom-fixed turbines. Floating turbines will enable these areas to generate renewable power and meet their emissions targets.

Floating wind also gives companies such as Equinor, which was the first to build a floating turbine platform with its Hywind concept, the opportunity to leverage their existing expertise in developing a new sector. “Floating turbines allow us to build on our existing offshore oil and gas skills – everything below the surface is like an oil and gas platform mooring, and everything above the surface is renewable,” says Bull. “It’s a perfect marriage between the two technologies.”

Offshore wind is the energy of the future and the North Sea will continue to be the sector’s spiritual home for years to come. But as floating wind technology catches up with bottom-fixed turbines, the industry will move into deeper waters and further offshore

It’s the perfect marriage between the two technologies. Floating turbines allow us to build on our existing offshore oil and gas skills

Stephen Bull, Senior Vice President for renewables, Equinor.

Hywind Scotland scale infographic

Schematic of a 6MW floating turbine at
Hywind Scotland

This content was paid for and produced by Equinor in partnership with the commercial department of the Financial Times.