Barring a few exceptions, we are seeing a shift to greener, more sustainable energy. The latest: an artificial island off Yorkshire's east coast could soon be managing the world's largest offshore wind farm. According to a recent report in The Guardian, this sci-fi-like endeavor could be up and running by 2027.
The 5 to 6-square-kilometer (1.9 to 2.3-square-mile) island will sit surrounded by wind turbines in the center of the North Sea. The area, known as Dogger Bank, is 125 kilometers (78 miles) from the UK coast and, importantly, shallow enough to support thousands of turbines that need to connect to the seabed.
The organization behind this ambitious project is TenneT, a transmission system operator that serves the Netherlands’ electrical grid. While the company plans to fund the building of the island, which is expected to cost somewhere in the region of €1.5 billion ($1.8 billion), the turbines will have to be constructed by offshore wind farm developers. Companies Ørsted and Innogy have already shown interest.
As futuristic as this might sound, experts say it's a logical progression for offshore wind farms with more convenient sites becoming increasingly hard – and expensive – to find.
“It’s crucial for industry to continue with the cost reduction path," Rob van der Hage, TenneT's offshore wind grid development program manager, told The Guardian. "The big challenge we are facing towards 2030 and 2050 is onshore wind is hampered by local opposition and nearshore is nearly full. It’s logical we are looking at areas further offshore.”
When built, the 6,000-square-kilometer (2,300-square-mile) farm will route renewable energy straight to five countries in Western Europe: the Netherlands, UK, Belgium, Germany, and Denmark.
And if all goes to plan, the farm will generate a staggering 30 gigawatts of energy. That's roughly twice the amount of energy currently produced by offshore wind farms in Europe and 48 times higher than the world's largest offshore wind farm (London Array) today.
Transporting all this electricity from the middle of the sea could be pricey, which is where the artificial energy comes in. According to proposals, short and affordable cables will send wind-generated energy to the island where it will be converted from an alternating current to a direct current. This is cheaper to transport. When it hits land, it will change back to an alternating current.
Initially, energy will be used in the UK and Netherlands, but the scheme will expand into Belgium, Germany, and Denmark.
Some have questioned the plausibility of this proposal, saying the engineering challenge is too great. Not van der Hage. He told The Guardian, "Is it difficult? In the Netherlands, when we see a piece of water we want to build islands or land. We’ve been doing that for centuries. That is not the biggest challenge.”