SHETLAND is being lined up to become Europe’s premier test site for the next generation of massive offshore wind turbines.
Consultants have identified two sites north of Lerwick as the best in Scotland for testing mega turbines, which could be operated in some of the roughest conditions far out at sea.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise appointed Inverness firm Atmos Consulting who said that Rova Head and Kebister Ness were the only sites in the country suitable for testing such powerful wind generators.
Now the development agency is presenting their findings to major energy companies in Europe and the Far East prior to applying for planning permission to use the sites.
The proposals have been welcomed by the sites’ owners, Shetland Islands Council and Lerwick Port Authority.
HIE’s director of energy and low carbon, Calum Davidson, said the amount of electricity generated off the UK could quadruple to around 16 gigawatts within the next 15 years.
He said Scotland wanted to capture a major slice of the market for developing and manufacturing next generation offshore turbines that could float offshore at deep sea sites west of Shetland, west of the Outer Hebrides and north of Sutherland.
Major players like Samsung, Mitsubishi, Areva and Gamesa have already expressed interest in using Scotland as a centre for development, but have stressed the need for a test site.
“If these companies can test their next generation machines in a very good wind regime, there is an opportunity for Scotland to capture the supply chain and manufacturing,” Davidson said.
“Scotland already has a couple of sites at Hunterston in Ayrshire with Mitsubishi and Scottish and Southern Energy, and with Samsung at Methil in Fife.
“We have been busy looking at the rest of Scotland for a test site and these two sites in Shetland were the ones that came up tops for the whole of Scotland.”
If the industry is interested, Shetland could end up with the two sites each accommodating a mast around 250 metres high, three times the height of the Lerwick power station chimney.
Companies would be able to attach their wind generators to the top of the masts and see them operating in strong wind conditions.
HIE Shetland area manager Rachel Hunter said if the test site goes ahead it will not generate much local employment, but it would be a healthy economic driver for the country as a whole.
“It comes as no surprise that we have an offshore wind regime on shore in Shetland, but this is part of a wider project to attract wind turbine manufacturers into Scotland,” she said.
“There’s not going to be a lot of jobs created here, but it could help attract inward investment to manufacture all over Scotland.”
However Davidson pointed to the success of the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney that was set up 12 years ago and is now full to capacity with developers testing equipment.
“EMEC employs maybe 20 people directly, but 300 people are involved in the supply chain for testing. There has been a real economic prize there for Orkney,” he said.
“This is a real opportunity for Shetland to get in at the early stage in testing deep water offshore wind turbines, because that’s where in 10 to 15 years the market will be looking.”
He said the industry was desperately seeking suitable testing facilities, of which there are “very, very few” in Europe.
The quality of Shetland’s wind resource is not in doubt, with the Burradale five turbine development north of Lerwick already proven as the most efficient in the world.
Davidson believes that if the proposal is given the green light, it will not proceed until an interconnector links Shetland to the mainland electricity grid, which in turn relies on the Viking Energy wind farm being built. That will not happen before 2018.
However Rachel Hunter suggests other concepts are being examined. “The project would probably rely on a good connection, but one solution could be dumping the electricity in a local facility,” she said.