Record-breaking 100m kWh Orkney wind turbine sparks new fears over lack of UK interconnector capacity

The Torfinn single-turbine on Orkney
The Torfinn single-turbine on Orkney

A wind turbine on Orkney has clocked up more than 100 million kWh of electricity generation – believed to be the first such single-turbine in the UK to have reached this milestone.

At 2.75MW the NEG Micon was one of the largest wind turbines in the UK when it was erected 13 years ago in May, 2002.

With a hub height of 70m and a blade diameter of 92m the NM92 turbine is one of the largest turbines at Burger Hill in Orkney, where the mean average windspeed is 25mph – making it one of the windiest places in all of Europe.

The turbine – now owned by Denmark’s Torfinn Wind Energy – generates enough electricity to power 1,400 local homes a day.

It has been serviced and maintained over the last 13 years by local electrical specialists BJRE Ltd, which also provides onshore wind turbine turnkey support services for a range of other renewable operators on the Orkney (which translates from the Icelandic language as ‘Energy Islands’) – including Nordex, RWE Npower, Enercon and Orkney Renewable Energy.

BJRE services are offered both directly to end users of wind turbines – generally where manufacturers’ five-year warranties have expired – and via turbine manufacturers.

The record-breaking output from the Torfinn turbine is taking the islands’ generation near to the maximum capacity of the two interconnectors from Orkney to the Scottish/ British mainland.

Orkney’s current connections to the mainland electricity grid are not suitable for transmitting the large amount of power produced by renewables on the islands.

Interconnector capacity is a growing local political and industry issue. BJRE also provide high-voltage connection and supply services to a number of UK and European marine turbine developers at the nearby European Marine Energy Centre.

Combined, this output is likely to exceed current interconnector capacity to/from Orkney. An industry source in Kirkwall told Scottish Energy News: “We really need a new (third) interconnect to the mainland to cope with the EMEC tidal arrays.

“This emerging demand has been known about for some time up here but SSE does not want to pay for a new interconnector”.

Liam McArthur, MSP (LibDem)
Liam McArthur, MSP (LibDem)

Liam McArthur, LibDem MSP for Orkney, commented: “Orkney remains at the forefront of what is happening in terms of renewable energy, thanks to a combination of unparalleled natural resources and world leading expertise and innovation – and the generation milestone from Burgar Hill is really impressive.

“From the widespread deployment of micro renewables and community initiatives through to highly productive large scale turbines and the development of marine technology, Orkney has demonstrated its considerable potential.

“It is increasingly clear though that this potential is being constrained.   Active management of the grid has enabled progress to be made in recent years, but the need for new grid infrastructure if now urgent. 

“If Scotland and indeed the rest of the UK are to hit their renewables and climate change targets, it is essential that the islands play their part.  Without early investment in new interconnectors, it is difficult to see how this can happen.”

A spokesman for Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission commented: “SHE Transmission is working with developers, the Scottish and UK Governments and OFGEM through the Scottish Islands Renewables Delivery Forum to further develop plans for a new transmission connection to Orkney. It is the Regulator who decides whether such links go ahead and ultimately GB energy bill payers – not SHE Transmission – who pay for them.”

Meanwhile BJRE is currently seeking to recruit new electricians, technicians and engineers in response to rising demand from renewable power companies – and with it the prospect of professionally more –challenging work than ‘standard’ household re-wiring.

A BJRE spokesman said: “Aside from medium-size turbine work, we also do the operation and maintenance work on most of the large turbines on Orkney, for example the big ones up on Burgar Hill. 

“There’s a fair bit of electrical work involved in this, and this is a good opportunity to diversify some of the skills technicians may have already When new turbines and wind farms come along, we generally get involved in both the turbine construction work, and the electrical hook up. 

“This is big stuff which many electricians might never otherwise have another chance to get involved with!  On one of our most recent wind turbine connection jobs, as well as installing almost 6,000m of underground cabling (including 150mm aluminium 33 kV power cable, fibre optics and earth cable), we installed over 1,000m of LV “meter tails” to connect the turbines to the transformers. 

“However, this isn’t the 25 or 35mm stuff they might be used to – this is 300mm with 10 parallel cables per phase!  Yes, that’s right, 3,000 sq mm of copper per phase!  More challenging than wiring up a domestic consumer unit!”

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