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Windfarms on a collision course?

By admin - Last updated: Wednesday, July 13, 2011

According to Renewables UK , the UK is the windiest country in Europe, so much so that we could power our country several times over using this free fuel. A modern 2.5MW turbine at a reasonable site will generate 6.5 million units of electricity each year, enough to meet the annual needs of over 1,400 households, make 230 million cups of tea or run a computer for 2,250 years.

Perhaps more realistically, many believe that onshore and offshore wind together could deliver 30% of the UK’s electricity supply by 2020 and be part of a radical decarbonisation of the economy by 2030.

But there’s a problem even with this number.  A £12billion, 6 gigawatt problem.

Currently, half of all windfarm developments in the UK face objections from aviation stakeholders on the grounds of radar interference, obstruction or impact to low flying.  And to a lesser or greater extent, depending on geography, the problem isn’t just limited to the UK but is actually global.

Put simply, the rotating blades of a turbine create problems for both military and civil radar system.  The blades create ‘clutter’ on the radar up to 60,000ft (18,000 meters) in the sky, and means that any aircraft flying within the vicinity of a windfarm simply becomes indistinguishable on the radar operator’s screen.  A light aircraft traveling at relatively low speeds can literally disappear from view for over a minute. Not good news and something that those in the industry are clearly concerned about.   Site the windfarm on the landing and take off path of any airport and you can see how the problem quickly becomes critical. This presents governments around the world with a conflict of interest between their need to quickly switch to renewable energy sources and the preservation of national security and air-traffic control integrity.

Various solutions have been proposed to try and fix this problem, including covering the turbine blades in stealth materials, complex computer algorithms that predict a plane’s flight path, or other – major – modifications and upgrades to existing radar systems.  All of these solutions offer the potential to help the situation, but equally all are only partial fixes – and as a company that specializes in innovative product development, we believe that there should be a no-degradation solution.

Last year we successfully trialed our own technology using a remote control helicopter which we were able to fly to within a few feet of a turbine situated near Swaffham in Norfolk.  Those who saw the results – which clearly differentiated and plotted the path of the helicopter as it approached and navigated around the turbine – claimed to be impressed.  However, this was just a trial, and as of last week we are now being given the opportunity to start to develop a fully scaled up system for the region surrounding Glasgow Prestwick Airport (GPA).   The area is strategically important to the growth of the UK wind industry, with the potential for hundreds of turbines, however, these are currently ‘on hold’ without an effective solution to mitigate interference to the airport’s Primary Radar systems that would be caused by the turbines. Many competing technical solutions have been proposed to deal with this issue, but Cambridge Consultants’ Holographic Radar was found to best suit GPA’s operational requirement and offers greater deployment flexibility than current alternative technologies. The initial feasibility study is estimated to take approximately two months to complete, however, if this stage is successfully, we hope that it will pave the way to opening up a no-degradation solution, which in turn could release tens of gigawatt of power from this renewable source around the world.

If you have an interest in wind farm radar issues, there is a specialist group can be found here on Linked In.


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