Switchgear innovation for offshore generation
Offshore wind is the vanguard of an energy revolution.
With the government’s commitment to build an additional 2GW of offshore wind capacity from 2020 onwards, it could soon generate a fifth of UK power. Cheaper than new gas and nuclear power, onshore is also one of the cheapest forms of power available to us.
While this transition is good for the environment, it will be a challenging one for utilities. The country continues to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels while utilities are under greater pressure to improve the efficiency and reliability of their power supply. Yet the rise of offshore wind poses new and unfamiliar challenges.
More support and funding means offshore wind farms are growing larger and more innovation in the space means that they can be installed further out to sea. Wind turbines are also increasing in size to generate more energy, with 10MW+ machines likely in the future.
The drawback of large farms is that bigger turbines and longer cables are required to connect the generated power to the grid. Without an innovative approach to high-voltage switchgear, utilities run the risk of more expensive equipment and more frequent power losses.
Knowing which way the wind is blowing
Traditional 72.5kV switchgear is costly, heavy and intended for the transmission of power from the generation site to an electrical substation. It can no longer scale with the complex demands of our burgeoning offshore capacity.
Now, utilities have to be smarter when selecting switchgear and should not be afraid of more innovative solutions. For easier transportation, installation and maintenance they should prioritise solutions that are compact and lightweight. Yet they must also be resilient, staying in good condition in harsh open-air and underground environments.
For improved cost efficiency, utilities should seek out switchgear with maintenance-free high voltage parts including sealed-for-life vacuum interrupters. Purchasing equipment that comes as a complete unit will also keep installation costs from spiralling.
Above all, they should take advantage of digital innovation. The latest generation of switchgear contains Internet of Things connected sensors, protection relays and discreet devices offer real-time condition monitoring reducing failure rates and increasing the lifespan of equipment. Embedding the common protocol of IEC61850 enables this to be achieved quicker and more cost-effectively than established solutions.
By embracing switchgear innovation, utilities and operators can meet the demands of our diversifying energy mix. The potential of offshore is enormous, it only needs continued support and creativity to help it reach its second wind.
By David Hall, VP Power Systems UK & Ireland at Schneider Electric
UK must stop blundering into high carbon choices warns CCC
The UK Government must end a year of climate contradictions and stop blundering on high carbon choices, according to the Climate Change Committee as it released 200 policy recommendations in a progress to Parliament update.
While the rigour of the Climate Change Act helped bring COP26 to the UK, it is not enough for Ministers to point to the Glasgow summit and hope that this will carry the day with the public, the Committee warns. Leadership is required, detail on the steps the UK will take in the coming years, clarity on tax changes and public spending commitments, as well as active engagement with people and businesses across the country.
"It it is hard to discern any comprehensive strategy in the climate plans we have seen in the last 12 months. There are gaps and ambiguities. Climate resilience remains a second-order issue, if it is considered at all. We continue to blunder into high-carbon choices. Our Planning system and other fundamental structures have not been recast to meet our legal and international climate commitments," the update states. "Our message to Government is simple: act quickly – be bold and decisive."
The UK’s record to date is strong in parts, but it has fallen behind on adapting to the changing climate and not yet provided a coherent plan to reduce emissions in the critical decade ahead, according to the Committee.
- Statutory framework for climate The UK has a strong climate framework under the Climate Change Act (2008), with legally-binding emissions targets, a process to integrate climate risks into policy, and a central role for independent evidence-based advice and monitoring. This model has inspired similarclimate legislation across the world.
- Emissions targets The UK has adopted ambitious territorial emissions targets aligned to the Paris Agreement: the Sixth Carbon Budget requires an emissions reduction of 63% from 2019 to 2035, on the way to Net Zero by 2050. These are comprehensive targets covering all greenhouse gases and all sectors, including international aviation and shipping.
- Emissions reduction The UK has a leading record in reducing its own emissions: down by 40% from 1990 to 2019, the largest reduction in the G20, while growing the economy (GDP increased by 78% from 1990 to 2019). The rate of reductions since 2012 (of around 20 MtCO2e annually) is comparable to that needed in the future.
- Climate Risk and Adaptation The UK has undertaken three comprehensive assessments of the climate risks it faces, and the Government has published plans for adapting to those risks. There have been some actions in response, notably in tackling flooding and water scarcity, but overall progress in planning and delivering adaptation is not keeping up with increasing risk. The UK is less prepared for the changing climate now than it was when the previous risk assessment was published five years ago.
- Climate finance The UK has been a strong contributor to international climate finance, having recently doubled its commitment to £11.6 billion in aggregate over 2021/22 to 2025/26. This spend is split between support for cutting emissions and support for adaptation, which is important given significant underfunding of adaptation globally. However, recent cuts to the UK’s overseas aid are undermining these commitments.
In a separate comment, it said the Prime Minister’s Ten-Point Plan was an important statement of ambition, but it has yet to be backed with firm policies.
Baroness Brown, Chair of the Adaptation Committee said: “The UK is leading in diagnosis but lagging in policy and action. This cannot be put off further. We cannot deliver Net Zero without serious action on adaptation. We need action now, followed by a National Adaptation Programme that must be more ambitious; more comprehensive; and better focussed on implementation than its predecessors, to improve national resilience to climate change.”
Priority recommendations for 2021 include setting out capacity and usage requirements for Energy from Waste consistent with plans to improve recycling and waste prevention, and issue guidance to align local authority waste contracts and planning policy to these targets; develop (with DIT) the option of applying either border carbon tariffs or minimum standards to imports of selected embedded-emission-intense industrial and agricultural products and fuels; and implement a public engagement programme about national adaptation objectives, acceptable levels of risk, desired resilience standards, how to address inequalities, and responsibilities across society.
Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner said the report is another reminder that if the UK is to meet its ambitious climate targets there is an urgent need to scale up bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).
"As the world’s leading generator and supplier of sustainable bioenergy there is no better place to deliver BECCS at scale than at Drax in the UK. We are ready to invest in and deliver this world-leading green technology, which would support clean growth in the north of England, create tens of thousands of jobs and put the UK at the forefront of combatting climate change."
Drax Group is kickstarting the planning process to build a new underground pumped hydro storage power station – more than doubling the electricity generating capacity at its iconic Cruachan facility in Scotland. The 600MW power station will be located inside Ben Cruachan – Argyll’s highest mountain – and increase the site’s total capacity to 1.04GW (click here).
Lockdown measures led to a record decrease in UK emissions in 2020 of 13% from the previous year. The largest falls were in aviation (-60%), shipping (-24%) and surface transport (-18%). While some of this change could persist (e.g. business travellers accounted for 15-25% of UK air passengers before the pandemic), much is already rebounding with HGV and van travel back to pre-pandemic levels, while car use, which at one point was down by two-thirds, only 20% below pre-pandemic levels.