Britain’s Windfalls

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Thanks to the Guardian for this update on the current state of the art of wind power, and it is good to see Britain in the lead:

Wild is the wind: the resource that could power the world

Wind isn’t just mysterious, destructive and exhilarating – capturing just 2% of it would solve the planet’s energy needs at a stroke. And as the windiest country in Europe, Britain is at the forefront of this green revolution

The wind rips along the Humber estuary in Hull. It’s the kind that presses your coat to your back and pushes you on to your toes. “A bit too windy,” shouts Andy Sykes, before his words are swept away. He is the head of operational excellence at the Siemens Gamesa factory, which supplies blades – the bits that turn – to windfarms in the North Sea. At 75 metres long, they are hard to manoeuvre when it’s gusting.

Inside the vast factory hall, the blades lie in various states of undress. Several hundred layers of fibreglass and balsa wood are being tucked into giant moulds by hand. There are “naked” blades that require paint and whose bodies have the patina of polished tortoiseshell. Look through the hollow blades from the broadest part, and a pale green path, the tinge of fibreglass, snakes down the long tunnel, tapering to a small burst of daylight at its tip.

“Alice in Wonderland,” Sykes says. “That’s how I feel. That’s the emotion coming through. It’s 75 metres long. We know that. But stood here the perspective is just fantastic. It’s my favourite view.” Down this strange green rabbithole is a glimpse of a greener future, the possibility of a world powered by wind.

This is not as fanciful a vision as it once seemed. In the UK, the wind energy industry is celebrating. Last month, the cost of renewable energy dropped dramatically to undercut by almost half the government’s projections for 2025. At £57.50 per megawatt-hour (MWh), it is far cheaper than the state-backed price of £92.50 awarded in 2016 to Hinkley nuclear power station. The speed of wind’s progress is extreme and inarguable.

Emma Pinchbeck, executive director of RenewableUK, and a former climate change activist, can’t keep the happiness from her voice. But she is happy for new reasons. What’s really exciting, she says, is the fact that she “is not having to talk to officials about decarbonisation any more as a starting point. Windfarms are low carbon. But that’s not why we want to build them. We want to build them because they’re bloody cheap!”

Wind is in the news. And not just in terms of the energy it provides. One after another, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate have devastated the Caribbean and parts of the US mainland. In the UK, with a turbulent autumn looming, this month marks the 30th anniversary of 1987’s great storm, which felled 15 million trees in one night. A book exploring this event, Windblown: Landscape, Legacy and Loss, sold in a keenly contested auction last year and has just been published. Another new book, Where the Wild Winds Are, sees its author, Nick Hunt, walk the “invisible pathways” of Europe’s winds. In short, wind is in the air. But why do lay people know so little about it – and can it really power the world?…

Read the whole article here.

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