Sunday 16 July 2023

Greta Goes to Sea

So early in June this year, Octopus Energy stated that, for a small number of lucky customers, they would arrange a trip to one of the UK's offshore wind farms.  You had a deadline of 2nd July to submit a short description of why you wanted to go.  They only planned to run between 4 or 5 trips each with 8-10 customers. In actual fact they ran a small number of additional trips with investors as well.  On the request you had to state why you wanted to go and if you were a lucky winner you would be selected to take the trip.  So I sent them the 200 word statement, referencing my 'You can call me Greta' blog.

On the 11th July, I received a quick telephone call from Octopus, asking me if I would be free to board HMS Octopus the following day.  They invited the Rebel too, but she said she needed to wash her hair that day and how she would be so pleased to have the house to herself if I was to go alone.   I have to say,  my inner Greta came stirring up from deep inside and I couldn't wait to say "I'll be there!". 20 minutes later, with the feeling of great elation (you would think I had won the lottery), I received my email with instructions.

I left early the next morning, saying good bye to the Rebel as she stirred in bed.  I told her I wouldn't be late and she replied "No need to rush back" with a slight tone in her voice and a big sigh of relief.

I arrived just after 8:00 am at their main control centre at Grimsby docks. Here we took part in the safety briefing (the first thing they asked for was the completion of a Next of Kin form),  we were issued with our rather nice and trendy pink high viz jacket and automatic inflating life vest. 

I got a little worried about the life jacket as on contact with water, it will automatically inflate.  So I was rather careful with my drinks that day as well as visits to the toilet.  I was wondering how much water was needed for a premature inflation.

Renata from the Octopus team welcomed us and the whole team made all seven of us on the tour extremely comfortable,  answered our repeated questions and provided some really useful information. It was instantly obvious how passionate they were to be working in the industry and how happy they were to share their experiences. 

We then boarded the boat for hour 1.5 hour steam out to the Lincs Off-Shore Wind Farm and were given some really interesting statistics.  Here's a quick summary of some of the information for the site we visited.

  • The UK is the second largest user of wind power, only China is bigger.
  • It takes approximately 9 years from initial inception, to getting planning approval to final commissioning of a wind farm.  Lincs started the process in 2004 and came on-line in 2013,  with only the last 2 years being the actual construction.
  • Lincs has 75 3.6 MWh turbines
  • Each Turbine is 150m tall
  • The farm is the size of 5,000 football pitches
  • 1 turn of the blades is enough to power 15,000 homes
  • The site generates 270MWh
  • Enough electricity is produced to power 240,000 homes / year.
  • Rotor Diameter is 120m (each blade is almost 60m long)
  • The turbine starts producing electricity when the wind speed reaches 4 m/s (around 8.5 mph) and is generating its full capacity (3.6 MWh) slightly after that and continues to generate the same amount of power up to 33 m/s (approx 75 mph). Above that, the turbine 'feathers' itself to protect itself in storms. 
More interestingly though, is the environmental work that is undertaken when the wind farm is constructed.  In the North Sea, Monopod style turbines are used.  These are placed in position and then hammered into the sea bed.  To avoid disturbance to sea creatures (dolphins / whales etc etc), a ring is planted on the sea bed around the site before hammering starts and these emit bubbles under pressure.  This creates an underwater sound barrier so that the hammering sounds do not impact wildlife.

Once the base is in position, often they lower additional sections that act as artificial reefs, increasing wildlife in the area such as clams / shellfish,  fish, seals etc.  In fact,  the base also has opening in the bottom for cable access, Seals regular catch fish and then shelter from the sea in the base of turbines to eat their catch.  Apparently,  there's a very fishy smell inside.

It’s only when you get up close you realise just how big these really are and begin to marvel at the engineering that is involved to place these out at sea. 

The turbines are chained in a string which is then sent to a sub station. This then sends the power back to the mainland. 

For Lincs, engineers travel out to the wind farm to work during the day. The larger wind farms further from coast such as Hornsea 2 (which cannot be seen from land) are 5+ hours away. Engineers for those spend 2 weeks on board ship before rotating off.  These ships have helipads to allow faster transfer to the mainland. 

Another interesting fact;  when you see a turbine which is stopped, with a single blade pointing up it is under maintenance and possibly have engineers planning to work on it or already on it. If on the other hand, 2 blades are pointing up in a Y shape,  maintenance is complete and it is awaiting be put back in service. 

We spent nearly 2 hours close to the turbines before the 1.5 hour return journey where we had an excellent packed lunch. Unfortunately,  the sub station is normally crawling with Seals, but there were none to be seen during our trip.  We were also very fortunate with the weather, it was very calm and although cloudy,  the rain stayed off throughout the trip.

When we returned we returned our hi viz and life jackets to the control centre. We were also issued with some Octopus merchandise.  One interesting item was a small number of mini octopi called Constantine.  These, we have found, my 1 year old grandson is terrified of; so if there is part of the house we do not want him to go to, we place a Constantine on the floor in front of it.  Star Trek / Force Fields, eat your heart out;  all you need is a 1 inch tall pink fluffy toy and you have a containment field that can resit the temptation of a 1 year old.  The unfortunate by product,  is the dog loves them and they never stay in their designated location for long.  They, seem to be attracted to the dogs bed, which I am sure David Attenborough would find most interesting as they must have some migratory tendencies that have not been published.

This was a really amazing experience and I can’t thank the team from Octopus enough.  If you get the chance you should really give it a go. 

I would like to take the opportunity to thank Octopus for their hospitality,  time taken to share a wealth of knowledge and an experience I won't forget.