High electricity loads, a windy site and some spare land: why not look at having a wind turbine or two installed on-site? In the UK, at least one company has a track record of such installations, serving businesses ranging from chemicals companies to food processing firms, as David Saxon writes.
Energy usage, energy prices and carbon emissions are continuing to engage the world in debate, with industry constantly on the lookout for ways to make reductions in all three areas.
CHP, solar power and other forms of distributed generation are all being embraced worldwide but, in terms of megawatts generated, the UK’s dominant player remains wind – as an option not just for large-scale wind farm development, but also for commercial-scale on-site generation.
In September 2010, this windy island in the middle of the North Sea announced that it had passed the 5 GW mark for wind energy generation (potential capacity) – enough to supply close to 3 million homes with electricity on an annual basis.
This landmark was achieved with the commissioning of two major wind farm developments in September – the 300 MW Thanet offshore wind farm and the expansion of the Crystal Rig 200 MW onshore wind farm in the Scottish Borders region of Scotland.
|The view from one of a pair of 2.5 MW wind turbines, each over 120 metres in height, which have generated power since December 2009 at the Solutia Newport site. The wind project is expected to generate a third of the site’s annual average electricity usage.|
All of this is tremendous news for the renewables industry, but not all wind development needs to be on such a grand scale. Indeed, while all the offshore developments have been taking place and attracting the best of the media attention, a number of companies have been quietly taking the initiative and installing large-scale turbines on-site.
FROM OIL & GAS TO WIND
Most recently in the UK on-site generation wind market, a single 2 MW wind turbine measuring 126 metres from base to tip was installed on land at Dewlay Cheesemakers in Garstang, Lancashire. The family-run business will benefit from low-cost green energy and will obtain an income from any energy that is exported to the local distribution network. Energization of the turbine will take place during November.
Dewlay is the first cheese company in the UK to be powered by wind on this scale and operations director, Nick Kenyon, is confident of the impact that it will have on the business: ‘When the turbine is fully operational it will meet all of our energy needs for the dairy. It will not only be cleaner and greener but will also allow us to stabilize [the cost of Dewlay’s] energy supply, which is vital in protecting our business for the future.’
This quest for price stability, as noted by Kenyon, is a major issue for the UK and – for a country that has traditionally been self-sufficient in coal reserves and North Sea oil supplies – this is relatively new territory.
Pressure is on the UK’s coalition government to improve the country’s longer-term prospects – a pressure that can only increase following the recent election of Ed Miliband as leader of the Labour Party. Last year, Miliband was quoted as saying it should be: ‘socially unacceptable to be against wind turbines in your area – like not wearing your seatbelt.’ Reducing the country’s reliance on traditional oil and gas is clearly on Miliband’s agenda.
Without action on energy supplies, estimates suggest the country will start to endure power outages as early as 2017, the point when demand is set to exceed supply.
So where does this leave high-end energy users such as the manufacturing industry? Without doubt, energy price monitoring has become a 24/7 job for energy managers and brokers.
Prices can fluctuate from hour to hour and the rise in ‘carbon pressure’ will only make this worse as the likelihood of a global trade in carbon becomes closer to reality and businesses end up trading both carbon and electricity.
What industry is seeking is price stability, predictability and a better price right now. The good news for some is that the solution is within their grasp.
ON-SITE WIND – A DIRECT SOLUTION
For companies with the right load and a suitable location, the savings from on-site wind power are substantial and come hand-in-hand with a range of PR benefits that are now having a real influence on the supply chain.
One quick-thinking business, Eastman Chemical Company in Cumbria, has been generating green energy for three years, accounting for 20-25% of its electricity usage over this time and delivering an annual saving in the region of 9000 tonnes of carbon dioxide and an annual six- figure financial saving.
|Figure 1. Estimated impact of energy and climate change policies on an average non-domestic energy bill for a medium sized consumer in 2020|
Source: DECC 2010. Figures in real 2009 prices
Eastman was approached by on-site generation company, Wind Direct, which develops, installs and operates commercial-scale wind turbines with no capital outlay to the client. Wind Direct is a renewables specialist and part of parent company Wind Prospect – one of the most successful independent wind energy developers in the UK.
The Wind Direct business model is to take a site and carry out all development, installation and operation on behalf of the client. The client then buys back the green energy at a lower cost and, importantly, is able to fix this cost for the next ten years.
Wind Direct’s sales director Chris Porter explains the concept: ‘Fixing the cost of energy means two things – other than allowing for inflation, our clients know exactly how much they will be paying in ten years’ time; and, secondly, that they get rid of the major problem of energy price volatility.
‘How can you possibly budget energy prices accurately when they are behaving so erratically? Wind Direct examines the wind resource over a set period and using these data we are able to predict the amount of wind yield. This in turn allows us to say to the client, “This is how much you will be paying for your electricity for the next ten years”. Usually the price that offered is 20-30% less than they had been paying for their ‘brown’ electricity.’
There are, of course, those who believe the cost of energy will fall as more and more renewable generation comes on line. But Porter is sceptical about this outlook.
‘According to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), by 2020 non-domestic retail electricity prices, for medium-sized consumers, will rise by a massive 43%. Whilst there are ways to militate against this colossal increase, even DECC estimates that the overall effect on bills will still be in the region of a 26% increase.’
Figure 1 illustrates how UK government policies may impact on electricity bills in 2020 (FIT – Feed in tariff; CCS – carbon capture and storage; RO – Renewables Obligation; CCL – Climate Change Levy; EU ETS – European Union Emissions Trading Scheme; RHI – Renewable Heat Incentive; CRC – Carbon Reduction Commitment; CCA – Climate Change Agreement).
While the success of developing on-site wind energy is good news for some industrial clients, it will not be quite so straightforward for others. There are numerous controls that a site must first undergo before investment will be made, including the all-important analysis of wind speed.
Mark Potts, Wind Direct’s development manager, explains: ‘Not all sites have the wind quality needed to make a project viable, particularly at project costs of around £1.5 million (US$2.4 million) per MW of potential capacity installed. If a site can pass a number of feasibility tests then we will look to install a met mast to monitor wind speed and quality.’
These feasibility tests include analysis of access to the sites and relative position to local housing, airports, MoD bases, bird and bat flight paths, among many other checks.
With so many constraints to examine and report on, planning can prove a major headache for wind developers. Despite the majority of on-site generation projects being located on brownfield land, the complexities of the planning system do not get any easier, as Potts continues to explain: ‘We start with a map of the client’s land boundary and then overlay maps of constraints including aviation routes, environmental constraints, microwave links and so on. Even on the larger sites we can very quickly end up with a very small area on which a turbine can be erected.
|Dewlay’s single 2 MW wind turbine was installed in September 2010 and will feed electricity direct to the site, with any excess generation being exported to the local distribution network.|
‘Our particular approach is to take our development plans apart and examine all of the details. We ask why the project shouldn’t be allowed to proceed and only when we can justify the scheme and tick all the right boxes will we move to a full application. This forensic approach to planning has achieved a group-wide planning success rate of 93%.’
The growing number of wind farms in the UK has without doubt made the developers’ job tougher, but Potts concludes that it is all for the best: ‘It’s right that developments on this scale should be questioned, so that development takes place in the right place, for the right reasons and with a minimal effect on the environment. The rewards for a good industrial site, with a good quality wind speed can see clients saving hundreds of thousands of pounds each year.’
THE RIGHT SITE
The ideal on-site wind generation client will have premises that are running 24/7 with a high baseload, ensuring that as much of the wind being generated can be used on-site. The client is then receiving electricity that otherwise would have been subject to use of system charges (i.e. the cost of taking power from the national grid network) and is therefore gaining greater savings.
Physical space is clearly a requirement and blades must not oversail a neighbouring property. However, the land surrounding the turbine can often be returned to its original use, and clients are often surprised at how little space is required.
With all of this in mind, brownfield sites are Wind Direct’s core market – yet the case study of Dewlay Cheese in Lancashire proves that, with the right site, a good all-important wind speed and a constant requirement for electricity, the model is flexible enough to accommodate a wide range of clients.
Amid fluctuating energy prices and threats to UK energy supplies, on-site wind generation clearly holds the key for a lucky few.Tighter planning constraints mean wind will by no means be the answer at every site, but the energy mix will inevitability widen, with wind sitting alongside solar, CHP and hydro.