UK offshore wind history

2000: First offshore project

The UK's first demonstration offshore wind farm was installed in December 2000 off the Northumberland coast. It consisted of two 2MW Vestas wind turbines with a rotor diameter of 66m, on monopile foundations in about 10m water, less than 2km from shore.

At the time, these were the largest turbines installed offshore in the world. At the same time, the first applications (Round 1) for sea bed leases were presented to The Crown Estate, the landlord for the sea bed within UK waters.

Blyth offshore wind farm, courtesy of E.ON
Blyth offshore wind farm, courtesy of E.ON
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2003: First commercial project

North Hoyle, the UK's first commercial wind farm was installed off the North Wales coast. It consisted of thirty 2MW Vestas turbines with a rotor diameter of 80m, on monopile foundations in about 12m water, about 8km from shore.

Other Round 1 projects followed soon after, though the last of 12 projects were only installed in 2013, bringing the total Round 1 capacity to 1.2GW. Five projects were withdrawn based on environmental grounds.

In 2003, Narec (now part of the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult), was set up in Blyth to support the development of renewable energy through providing world-class test and other technical services.

At the end of 2003, the results of Round 2 of sea bed leasing were announced, with 15 projects awarded a total of 7.2GW capacity.

Aerial view of the North Hoyle offshore wind farm. Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0), photo by Tom Jeffs
Aerial view of the North Hoyle offshore wind farm. Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0), photo by Tom Jeffs
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2007: First 100m diameter rotors

Burbo Bank was the first UK offshore wind farm where 100m rotor diameter turbines were installed. It consisted of 25 3.6MW Siemens turbines with a rotor diameter of 107m, installed off Liverpool.

In 2007, the Government announced a strategic environmental assessment as an early step to Round 3 of sea bed leasing by The Crown Estate.

Aerial view of the Burbo Bank offshore wind farm, courtesy of Ørsted
Aerial view of the Burbo Bank offshore wind farm, courtesy of Ørsted
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2008: First 100MW project, first 5MW turbines installed offshore, and first use of jacket foundations

In 2008, a number of other key landmarks were reached. The first 100MW project started operation off the Lincolnshire coast, when the twin projects Lynn and Inner Dowsing were commissioned. The single construction project consisted of fifty four 3.6MW Siemens turbines, totalling 194MW.

At the same time, two 5MW Senvion turbines with a rotor diameter of 126m were installed in the Moray Firth, Scotland, on the first jacket foundations installed in offshore wind, globally.

UK installations in 2008 pushed UK past Denmark to take over as the global lead for offshore wind, a position it will hold for some time yet.The Crown Estate also launched Round 3 of sea bed leasing, this time offering nine large zones with capacity around 30GW, offering a step-change in scale of the global offshore wind industry.

Beatrice Demonstration offshore wind farm, courtesy of Renewable Energy Focus
Beatrice Demonstration offshore wind farm, courtesy of Renewable Energy Focus
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2010: First 100 turbine project

Thanet, in the Southern North Sea, became the world's largest offshore wind project and the first to have 100 turbines. It consisted of 100 3MW Vestas turbines, located in water depths up to 23m, about 12km from shore.

At the same time, the winners of The Crown Estate's Round 3 leasing competition were announced, the largest with capacity up to 10GW.

Thanet offshore wind farm, courtesy of Vattenfall
Thanet offshore wind farm, courtesy of Vattenfall
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2012: First 500MW project

Greater Gabbard, the UK's first 500MW project started operation, It consisted of 140 3.6MW Siemens turbines and became the world's largest offshore wind farm.

In 2012, The Crown Estate also published its flagship industry report on the potential for cost of energy reduction in offshore wind to 2020. Coupled with the output the Offshore Wind Cost Reduction Task Force, this set the direction of Government-industry collaboration in offshore wind for the next six years.

It was also the year that the ORE Catapult was established in Glasgow to lead technology innovation and research centre for offshore wind, wave and tidal energy.

Greater Gabbard offshore wind farm, courtesy of Greater Gabbard Offshore Wind Farm
Greater Gabbard offshore wind farm, courtesy of Greater Gabbard Offshore Wind Farm
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2013: First 6MW and 7MW turbines installed offshore

The first 7MW turbine was installed offshore in the Firth of Forth, Scotland. The prototype turbine, developed by Samsung, had a rotor diameter 171m. This turbine is now operated by ORE Catapult.

At the same time, the first direct-drive (gearless) Siemens offshore wind turbines were installed at Gunfleet Sands in the Thames Estuary. Historically, gearboxes have been a source of unreliability and OPEX for wind turbines, but removing them drives a significant increase in size and cost of the generator. Some other suppliers, such as MHI Vestas, have opted for a mid-speed generator with a simplified gearbox as a solution.

London Array, at 630MW, took over as the world's largest wind farm, consisting of 175 3.6MW Siemens turbines.

The Government also announced an intermediate step to a new auction market mechanism for offshore wind, Contracts for Difference (CfD) as part of Electricity Market Reform. This step, known as Final Investment Decision (FID) Enabling for Renewables, led eventually to a range of offshore wind projects obtaining strike prices of £140 to £155/MWh for projects delivered up to 2019.

Levenmouth turbine, courtesy of Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult
Levenmouth turbine, courtesy of Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult
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2015: First UK Contracts for Difference auction

The first CfD auction results for UK offshore wind were announced, with strike prices of £114 to £120/MWh (2012 prices) for projects to be delivered by 2019.

In 2014, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., the Japanese multinational engineering, electrical equipment and electronics company and wind turbine supplier Vestas established a 50:50 joint venture for supply to the offshore wind industry, MHI Vestas Offshore Wind.

Gwynt y Môr offshore wind farm, (c) innogy
Gwynt y Môr offshore wind farm, (c) innogy
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2017: First Round 3 project operating

Seven years after obtaining an agreement for lease, the first wind farm from the UK leasing Round 3 started operation. Rampion, in the English Channel, consists of 130 3.45MW turbines from MHI Vestas Offshore Wind.

At the same time, the world's first commercial floating offshore wind farm started operation. The five 6MW Siemens turbines were installed on spar-buoy foundations in water about 100m deep off Peterhead in Grampian, Scotland.

The second CfD auction results for UK offshore wind were announced, with strike prices of £57 to £75/MWh (2012 prices) for projects to be delivered by 2023, showing a substantial cost of energy reduction since the previous auction.

German conglomerate, Siemens, the largest industrial manufacturing company in Europe, merged its wind division with Spanish turbine supplier Gamesa to form Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy. GE Renewable Energy acquired leading wind turbine blade manufacturer LM Wind Power.

Rampion offshore wind farm, courtesy of Rampion Offshore Wind
Rampion offshore wind farm, courtesy of Rampion Offshore Wind
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2018: First 9.5MW turbines

The first contracts were placed for MHI Vestas Offshore Wind 9.5MW turbines, which will be installed in 2021 and 2022 at the Triton Knoll and Moray East wind farms. Both MHI Vestas Offshore Wind and Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy have 10MW+ turbines and GE renewable Energy announced its 12MW+ turbine with a 220m diameter rotor.

At the same time, the record for the largest offshore wind farm was broken, with the 659MW Walney Extension project in Morecambe Bay, consisting of 40 MHI Vestas Offshore Wind 8.25MW turbines and 47 Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy 7MW turbines.

Siemens SG 10.0-193 DD, (C) Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy
Siemens SG 10.0-193 DD, (c) Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy
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