06:00 27 August 2022
01:18 PM August 27, 2022
Vattenfall is set to build one of the world’s largest wind farms off the Norfolk coast. To get an idea of what this would mean for the region, journalist Derin Clark visited his wind farm off the Kent coast
The boat slowed as it made its way through the 100 wind turbines towering above us.
We were six miles from the Kent coast where in 2010 Vattenfall had built its Thanet offshore wind farm – which was the largest in the UK at the time.
This Swedish-based company is set to build one of the world’s largest wind farms off the Norfolk coast. So I had joined the trip to get an idea of what the Norfolk Boreas Offshore Wind Farm will look like.
While the size of the turbines we saw were impressive, technology has evolved over the past 12 years and those in Norfolk are expected to be larger, both in size and number.
Our boat passed in front of wind turbines reaching 115 meters high.
In Norfolk, however, they should reach 350 meters.
“Those off the Norfolk coast will have a peak height almost as tall as The Shard in London,” explained Dr Catrin Jones, offshore wind stakeholder engagement manager at Vattenfall, who was also on board.
Despite their size, Dr Jones said, 50km from shore, the turbines will not be visible from land.
The Kent Wind Farm generates enough electricity to power 400,000 homes – when the Norfolk Wind Farm is fully operational it is expected to supply power to over four million people.
Each turbine generates energy which is transferred ashore via submarine cables – onshore they are conducted underground and connected to the grid a few kilometers inland.
But what was more impressive than the scale of the wind farm was the work required to keep the turbines running efficiently.
Before setting sail, I met some of the technicians who oversee her maintenance.
Groups of at least three technicians go out to sea every day to repair the blades, which are constantly damaged by salty sea air, pollution and, much more rarely, bird strikes.
Turbine maintenance can be dangerous and it was emphasized that worker safety was paramount.
A shore crew constantly monitors weather conditions and if the wave height or wind strength is deemed unsafe, technicians will not work.
The scale of the operation is so large that the Kent wind farm, which has only 145 wind turbines, requires around 50 permanent full-time employees, and increases to 100 if contractors are included.
I have been told that the Norfolk project will be on a much larger scale and will therefore require many more workers.
On the day of our trip, we were lucky – the weather conditions were in our favor and we got to see the daily repair work in progress.
To inspect the blades, the wind turbine is shut down and two technicians use an elevator inside the structure that takes them to the top.
They then rappel down the blade, inspecting and repairing it as they descend.
There is a platform at the bottom of the turbine where a third worker watches over the safety of his fellow descenders.
Maintenance of the Norfolk wind farm will be done in much the same way, Dr Jones explained to me, but because of the time it would take to travel 50 miles from shore, they will have hotel boats which will allow technicians to stay at sea.
Ashore, a base will also be needed to monitor conditions and turbines.
In July, offshore wind farm Norfolk Boreas received a financial boost when it won its Contracts for Difference (CfD) bid.
This government program guarantees Vattenfall a guaranteed base price for the electricity the wind farm will produce – helping it to attract investment for the project.
Dr Jones revealed that construction of the turbines is expected to start in September 2023.
Check out Monday’s newspaper for more about the jobs that will be created off the Norfolk coast and the environmental impact of the wind farm
New technology under development
Technology has come a long way since Vattenfall built the wind farm off the coast of Kent, which will allow Norfolk to benefit from more efficient and taller turbines.
Developments have also been made to store energy generated by wind farms, which have already started to be implemented for onshore wind farms.
Dr Catrin Jones said: “Vattenfall operates battery storage systems in combination with wind. In the UK, a 22 MW battery is located at Pen y Cymoedd Wind Farm, the largest onshore wind farm in England and Wales.
“The battery is able to meet the needs of the grid system in less than a second, ensuring a stable supply of electricity to UK homes.”
Work is also underway to examine how hydrogen can be used to make offshore wind farms more efficient.
“Vattenfall’s Hydrogen Turbine 1 (HT1) project in Aberdeen aims to be the first project in the world to test the full integration of hydrogen production with an offshore wind turbine,” said Dr Jones.
“Producing hydrogen on offshore wind turbines is probably the most efficient way to produce green hydrogen for the decarbonization of heavy industry such as steel, chemicals or refining, as well as heavy transport. Our goal is to produce the first fossil-free hydrogen by 2025.”
Wind turbines as tall as The Shard are set to be built off the Norfolk coast