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The Warsaw Voice » Business » April 2, 2008
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Energy From the Baltic
April 2, 2008   
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Most European countries with access to the sea build wind farms in their coastal waters. These include Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Germany. Estonia is constructing two wind farms at sea with a total capacity of 1,900 megawatts. The total capacity of this small Baltic state is just 3,000 MW a year. Poland, which can produce 35,000 MW, does not have a single wind turbine on the Baltic Sea yet.

However, that will change, mainly due to Polska Grupa Energetyczna (Polish Energy Group), the country's biggest energy producer. It intends to build wind turbines on both land and sea.

Poland's energy production is based on hard coal, lignite and oil, but it has to include renewable energy in its policies. European Union law requires the country to generate 10.4 percent of its total energy from renewable resources, and 20 percent by 2020, compared to the present 2.6 percent. Many experts say that reaching these targets is unlikely.

Still, Poland is developing bold projects. The best known one comes from the Maritime Institute in Gdańsk, which has chosen three sites for offshore wind farms in Polish waters in the Baltic Sea. Each farm will consist of 100 turbines of 3 MW each, so the project's total output will be 900 MW. The estimated cost of the project is zl.5.1 billion. Polska Grupa Energetyczna has not revealed when it wants to start the project.

The cost of energy generation by offshore wind farms is slightly higher than by farms inland, but the former are more efficient. Inland turbines can operate 2,000-3,000 hours a year, compared to 7,500 hours for offshore turbines, which are powered by much stronger winds.

A single 300 MW offshore wind farm may generate the same amount of electric energy as two or three comparable inland farms.

Using winds blowing at significant altitudes, for example, 100 meters above sea level, offers particularly promising prospects. These winds are stronger and more stable, offering better use of high-capacity turbines. Maritime Institute experts assess the potential energy of winds over the Baltic is 21-150 percent higher than that of winds blowing over coastal areas (up to 100 km inland).

The life span of offshore turbines is twice that of those on land and the power output of such turbines is also twice as high. But 1 MW from an offshore turbine costs zl.12.5 million, compared with zl.5.7 million from a land turbine.

Several different types of technology are employed in the construction of offshore wind farms. German companies usually mount power generators on steel piles driven 15-20 meters into the sea bed. The power generated by the turbine is transmitted to land through a cable laid two meters under the sea bed. In Britain, turbines are fixed on floating concrete shells. The structures are held in place with polyester ropes attached to anchors. This system makes the shells and turbines stable even in a hurricane.

The huge structures, which tower 100 meters above the sea, are located 12 nautical miles from the coast and so are barely visible from a beach. Despite concerns voiced by tourists, offshore wind farms do not spoil the view because they appear as tiny points on the horizon, if at all.

"Constructing wind farms at sea makes good economic, environmental and political sense," said Benedykt Hac from the Maritime Institute. He added, however, that turbines built on artificial platforms may affect the natural environment, and interfere with pipelines and cables under the sea, as well as affect sea navigation and fishing.

The institute's experts say that work during turbine construction may interfere with the migration patterns of fish, birds and mammals in the short term. Also, while turbines are operating, the immediate area cannot be used for extracting natural resources, sailing or fishing.

Potential investors are aware of these limitations, and that wind farms have to comply with the laws protecting sea life, and with Natura 2000 regulations.

After analyzing the potential benefits and disadvantages of "clean" energy generation, the Maritime Institute has concluded that the construction of wind farms on the Baltic will have a positive environmental impact.

Piotr Tarnowski
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