Eco Innovation

New wind turbines blades three times Angel of the North’s wingspan

14th May 2024
Paige West

The world’s most advanced wind turbine test facility will be built in Blyth, Northumberland, as part of an £86m investment in wind power R&D facilities aimed at reducing CO2 emissions and boosting the economy, Science, Research and Innovation Minister, Andrew Griffith, announced.

The new facility, based at the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult’s National Renewable Energy Centre, would test, validate, and certify turbines and was expected to prevent 2.5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions – twice the amount of CO2 emitted by the population of Newcastle in a year – over an eight-and-a-half-month period by getting more of the largest and most efficient wind turbines onto the market quicker. This meant more of the energy keeping our lights on and heating our homes would come from an eco-friendly source.

The funding would go towards building a 150-metre blade test facility that would replicate the harsh conditions at sea, with potential for future expansion to 180 metres, with the existing 100-metre blade test facility being repurposed to increase capacity. This would mean the facility would be capable of testing the largest blades currently on the market and in near-future development.

The new R&D infrastructure would support the growth of UK supply chains and the industry’s goal of 60% of offshore wind farm content coming from the UK. It would also encourage investment in the country’s fast-growing offshore wind sector, benefiting businesses and the economy, while supporting the UK’s commitment to reaching net zero by 2050.

It would help to upgrade the drive train test facility, which tested turbine generators, currently operating at 15 megawatts (MW), to 23MW with a future pathway to 28MW should the industry require it over time – ramping up the power generated and helping to advance wind turbine technology.

The facility – the only site in the world testing both turbine blades and drive trains – would create at least 30 new jobs in Blyth and support five PhDs a year, opening doors for highly skilled and highly paid local jobs to help level up the UK.

Science, Research and Innovation Minister, Andrew Griffith, said: “Pioneering innovation is the key to safeguarding the environment we live in while maintaining a high quality of life and remaining unashamedly open for business.

“Our £86m funding will create highly skilled and highly paid new jobs that grow the north-east and wider UK economies. It will also bring in investment by marking our country as a leader in technologies of the future as well as a global capital for wind power.

“At the same time, this innovation will strengthen the UK’s energy security in an uncertain world and help us pivot towards the cleaner energy that can preserve our planet for generations to come.”

Testing the larger blades and more powerful drive trains before the turbines were put to work offshore would help manufacturers accelerate the introduction of the new wave of larger, more efficient machines, which generated more power and reduced the chance of failure in practice.

Designs were well advanced with a view to commencing construction this summer and to the major upgrade to its 15MW drive train test facility, with both expected to be fully commissioned by 2028.

Dr Adam Staines, UKRI Infrastructure Portfolio Director, said: “UKRI continues to make the vital infrastructure investments that will underpin innovation and research throughout the UK for the coming decades.

“The project in Blyth demonstrates that investment in the right infrastructure can reduce CO2, support greater energy independence, and drive economic benefits that build world-class places to live and work, as well.

“Working across UKRI with Innovate UK’s Catapult Network and the wider supply chain will help achieve these crucial objectives.”

Andrew Jamieson, ORE Catapult Chief Executive, said: “This investment in truly world-leading capability will keep the UK at the forefront of offshore wind technology development.

“It will enable ORE Catapult to continue to deliver the most advanced research and development infrastructure and expertise to the offshore wind industry, capturing the jobs and economic growth from the transition to a net zero economy.”

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