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World's Biggest Offshore Wind Farm Switched On in Britain

Massive London Array dwarfs previous record-holder, can power a half million homes

2 min read
World's Biggest Offshore Wind Farm Switched On in Britain

Around a year and a half ago, the Walney wind farm in the Irish Sea started spinning and prepared to relish the title of being "biggest in the world." It ended up enjoying that status a bit longer than expected, but the London Array, off the coast of Kent, now leaves Walney and its 367 megawatts in the dust.

Some numbers: 175 turbines. 630 megawatts. Half a million homes. 100 square kilometers. 450 kilometers of offshore cabling.

In other words, it's pretty big. The speed at which these enormous projects are popping around in the waters around the U.K. is impressive, especially considering the ongoing difficulties with getting even a single offshore turbine up and running in the U.S. (Cape Wind might have one by next year! Maybe!) There are now around 20 distinct offshore wind farms around the U.K., generating enough power for 2.3 million homes; when all offshore turbines that are spinning, in construction, or planned are combined, they total 15 gigawatts of capacity—about a quarter of the entire U.S. onshore wind power capabilities.

The London Array, owned by DONG Energy, E.ON, and the U.A.E.'s Masdar, looks to keep it's world's-biggest title for a bit longer than Walney held out, thanks to its already massive size and a phase 2 plan to bring it up to a full gigawatt. And some of the other big projects underway in the region won't be able to compete with that sort of girth: West of Duddon Sands farm will get to 389 MW, for example, while the Gwynt y Mor farm off the coast of Wales will reach 576 MW.

According to some of the executives involved with the London Array, big really is better when it comes to offshore wind. "This project is also a real milestone on the path to cutting the cost of offshore wind," said Brent Cheshire, the U.K. country chairman for DONG Energy, at the inauguration. "As projects get even bigger and move further offshore, we must continue to harvest the advantages of scale to bring down the costs." The CEO for E.ON UK added that the aim is to reduce the cost of offshore wind by 40 percent within just a couple of years. In a country that is actually good at building these farms, there's no reason to doubt that they can get there.

Photo: London Array

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Smokey the AI

Smart image analysis algorithms, fed by cameras carried by drones and ground vehicles, can help power companies prevent forest fires

7 min read
Smokey the AI

The 2021 Dixie Fire in northern California is suspected of being caused by Pacific Gas & Electric's equipment. The fire is the second-largest in California history.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

The 2020 fire season in the United States was the worst in at least 70 years, with some 4 million hectares burned on the west coast alone. These West Coast fires killed at least 37 people, destroyed hundreds of structures, caused nearly US $20 billion in damage, and filled the air with smoke that threatened the health of millions of people. And this was on top of a 2018 fire season that burned more than 700,000 hectares of land in California, and a 2019-to-2020 wildfire season in Australia that torched nearly 18 million hectares.

While some of these fires started from human carelessness—or arson—far too many were sparked and spread by the electrical power infrastructure and power lines. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) calculates that nearly 100,000 burned hectares of those 2018 California fires were the fault of the electric power infrastructure, including the devastating Camp Fire, which wiped out most of the town of Paradise. And in July of this year, Pacific Gas & Electric indicated that blown fuses on one of its utility poles may have sparked the Dixie Fire, which burned nearly 400,000 hectares.

Until these recent disasters, most people, even those living in vulnerable areas, didn't give much thought to the fire risk from the electrical infrastructure. Power companies trim trees and inspect lines on a regular—if not particularly frequent—basis.

However, the frequency of these inspections has changed little over the years, even though climate change is causing drier and hotter weather conditions that lead up to more intense wildfires. In addition, many key electrical components are beyond their shelf lives, including insulators, transformers, arrestors, and splices that are more than 40 years old. Many transmission towers, most built for a 40-year lifespan, are entering their final decade.

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