Sunday 14 July 2024
 11.1°C   NNE Fresh Breeze
Ocean Kinetics - The Engineering Experts

Letters / Breezy, not windy!

It seems that some problems are destined never to be solved (Last fight over Viking Energy next month; SN, 26/11/14). Take, for instance, the case of the Lang Kames project, also known as the Viking wind farm.

Slightly more than six years after a private email exchange with one of the founders and main movers of Sustainable Shetland ended with me informing him that, in my opinion if he took a political rather than a technical tack in opposing that project, he’d fail (simply because Viking Energy would be better at ‘playing politics’ than he was), the whole wrangle is still on-going.

He duly went ahead and formed Sustainable Shetland anyway only a few weeks after that exchange finished; and now here we are, six years on from that time with yet another expensive ‘enquiry’ or ‘review’ of the situation.

Let me say at the outset that I’m not in the least bit opposed to the IDEA of wind farms – but that my experiences of correlating local wind speed regimes in several countries with a variety of wind turbine manufacturers’ own published data (usually in graph form) have shown in all cases that wind farms are a complete failure on a technical level, in that they can’t deliver the power that they’re supposed to be able to.

On that basis, I’m distrustful of everything I’ve heard about and seen of them, while ever-hopeful that they’ll all justify themselves one day in terms of anything other than money subsidies and ‘green’ fantasies.

Worse than that, the failure of wind farms in general is being disguised wilfully by the adroit use of emotional language, and by trading on the general technical ignorance of the populace at large.

For instance, one of the verbal ‘sleights-of-hand’ used with regard to weather conditions on Shetland is to describe the place as being ‘windy’.

Become a supporter of Shetland News


In strict Beaufort-Scale terms, this appears to be a deliberate mis-statement, if not an outright lie – because the Beaufort Scale descriptions of air movement assigns magnitude numbers ranging all the way from flat calm (Force 0), to Light Air (Force 1), to Light Breeze (Force 2), through Gentle Breeze (F3), Moderate Breeze (F4), Fresh Breeze (F5) and Strong Breeze (F6) – when suddenly, and for just one band of wind velocities (Force 7), it’s described as High Wind or Gale before it moves on to Gale or Fresh Gale (F8), Strong Gale (F9), and Whole Gale or Storm (F10).

It may seem like a quibble to say that Shetland is breezy rather than windy – but the truth is that, for a place whose mean annual wind speed is a mere 12 mph (Force 3, Gentle Breeze), the only true description of Shetland’s weather is that of ‘breezy’ (qualified by ‘and not very, most of the time’).

Wind turbine designs generally haven’t reached a stage yet where anything but laughable quantities of energy can be generated in winds of only Force 3 intensity.

A quick look at the ‘power’ (energy) curves for the Vestas and Enercon turbines (in particular) will show up this truth immediately, in all cases; and since the information is in the public domain, just as is the Meteorological Office’s annual average wind speed data analysis for all UK postcodes, a simple (and most revealing) correlation of the two can made possible simply by displaying them side-by-side on two separate Internet Explorer windows.

Any discussion on how to increase the output of any given turbine would be speculative – because not even the turbine manufacturers have managed to do that yet – but increasing the available wind-generated torque (or ‘angular leverage’, which is the means to drive a heavily-loaded generator) and the speed at which the rotor turns would both have to figure in the evaluation.

Unfortunately, increases in either or both of those quantities would involve increasing the rate at which the air is cut by any given rotor; which inevitably multiplies the risks and dangers to bird life.

A cynic might argue that if a bird’s eyesight isn’t good enough to allow it to avoid a collision with a wind turbine blade, then maybe that bird has reached the point in its life where it can no longer successfully forage for food, and is possibly only days away from being unable to avoid being torn out of the air by a bonxie flying around on a ‘snack mission’. That’s for the naturalists to argue about and decide – it’s beyond me.

The latest almost-laudatory article in the SN yesterday concerning Viking Energy was headed by the following picture:

It shows an almost ‘Teletubbie-ish’ fantasy presentation of how the Lang Kames would be expected to look after the wind farm has been installed.

This can’t possibly be realistic: because it doesn’t show the Burn of Lunklet in permanent torrential flood after rainfall (as it will be when the pattern of hydrology on the Lang Kames has been destroyed forever); and it certainly doesn’t show the bog-burst and peat slippage that would result from the peat blanket having been pierced to allow turbine bases and roadways to be installed, and then not knitted back into one piece to keep it firmly in place (because no such technology exists yet).

Neither does it show the extent of inundation of places downstream of the Lang Kames, both north and south, where widespread flooding will destroy all of the property in its path.

I suppose I could observe that the relatively minor problem of possible closure of the A968 by landslide would be the council’s problem to clean up; but at a time when a number of schools are still facing closure, and when an article this week in this very newspaper states that Toft Pier can’t be repaired (both of which are because there’s no money to pay for the work to be done, due to past profligacy on the part of people who were well-paid and trusted to know better), I have to wonder at how the money will be found to keep that road open.

I shall continue to watch the progress of the Lang Kames Project with considerable interest – because, not only can I not see how it will ever make any money, or generate adequate amounts of electricity that would justify the construction of a mainland interconnector cable: I can’t see either how it could possibly reel-in enough investors to get it going – especially not when penny drops regarding the implications of the local average wind speed vs. the turbine energy curve information that I alluded to earlier on in this letter.

Philip Andrews

Become a supporter of Shetland News

Shetland News is asking its many readers to consider start paying for their dose of the latest local news delivered straight to their PC, tablet or mobile phone.

Journalism comes at a price and because that price is not being paid in today’s rapidly changing media world, most publishers - national and local - struggle financially despite very healthy audience figures.

Most online publishers have started charging for access to their websites, others have chosen a different route. Shetland News currently has  over 600 supporters  who are all making small voluntary financial contributions. All funds go towards covering our cost and improving the service further.

Your contribution will ensure Shetland News can: -

  • Bring you the headlines as they happen;
  • Stay editorially independent;
  • Give a voice to the community;
  • Grow site traffic further;
  • Research and publish more in-depth news, including more Shetland Lives features.

If you appreciate what we do and feel strongly about impartial local journalism, then please become a supporter of Shetland News by either making a single payment or monthly subscription.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.



Subscribe to a selection of different newsletters from Shetland News, varying from breaking news delivered on the minute, to a weekly round-up of the opinion posts. All delivered straight to your inbox.

Daily Briefing Newsletter Weekly Highlights Newsletter Opinion Newsletter Life in Shetland Newsletter

JavaScript Required

We're sorry, but Shetland News isn't fully functional without JavaScript enabled.
Head over to the help page for instructions on how to enable JavaScript on your browser.

Your Privacy

We use cookies on our site to improve your experience.
By using our service, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy.

Browser is out-of-date

Shetland News isn't fully functional with this version of .
Head over to the help page for instructions on updating your browser for more security, improved speed and the best overall experience on this site.

Interested in Notifications?

Get notifications from Shetland News for important and breaking news.
You can unsubscribe at any time.

Become a supporter of Shetland News

We're committed to ensuring everyone has equitable access to impartial, open and quality local journalism that benefits all residents.

By supporting Shetland News, you play a vital role in ensuring we remain a pivotal resource in supporting the community.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.