Being at Centrica this summer has given me a great opportunity to further my interest in renewable energy, before I go off to study a Masters in Sustainable Energy next year. Therefore I was really excited to have the opportunity to visit the Grimsby offshore wind farm operations base on Tuesday 12 August. I had spoken to several people in Windsor who worked in the renewables business; finding out about topics such as the Renewables Obligations Certificates (ROCs) which incentivise renewable energy production, but I was keen to get some hands-on experience in Grimsby.
As we drove to the Centrica office, we passed through Grimsby’s once-thriving dockland fishing area, and saw the offices for many other offshore wind providers such as DONG and E-On. While the Centrica office in Grimsby operates the Lynn and Inner Dowsing and Lincs (offshore), and Glens of Foudland (onshore) windfarms, there are many other companies which also run their assets from Grimsby.
We spent a fascinating morning in the control room, where the direct control and support of the turbines goes on. On one side was Marine Control monitoring the activities of the boats, the technicians who were on the turbines, and making the crucial decisions about whether the weather conditions were calm enough to allow offshore work. I was extremely surprised to learn that Centrica operate 14 boats out of Grimsby, each needing to be crewed and maintained. It was a strong reminder of the operating and maintenance costs associated with such highly-engineered turbines in challenging offshore conditions. Many people think that the ‘free’ fuel utilised by renewable energy technologies means their only cost is the capital for construction, but this clearly is not the case!
Following on from this, we spoke to the people who control the functioning of the turbines. On instructions from the national grid they turn the turbines on or off in order to maintain the correct frequency and voltage of the nation’s power supply. I was fascinated to learn that a turbine can go from fully operational to stopped to fully operational again in 90 seconds, illustrating their value as a very flexible source of power.
After lunch I heard about some of the recent maintenance and engineering work that had taken place on the turbines. Since the first offshore wind turbines were only installed in the UK in 2001, the engineers have to continually work to come up with new solutions to unprecedented problems. An ongoing industry-wide collaboration on turbine manufacture standards (the SLIC) is bringing together many companies and the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in order to do collaborative research into many aspects of turbine maintenance. After chatting to several more people, from a Business Support Manager for Generation Safe to the site manager at Grimsby and practicing our end-of-placement presentations, it was time to bid a sad farewell to the warehouse-like office by the estuary.
I owe an enormous thank you to fellow-intern Suzie Baldwin who introduced me to so many people and arranged such a great day, in her office with the best view in Centrica!