The last rotor is now installed in the C-Power park off the coast of Ostend

- This is a symbolic day, with the installation of the last wind turbine rotor.

- C-Power: an international (RWE, EDF…) and Belgian (Deme, Sriw, Socofe…) consortium.

Calm seas, a few knots of wind, the cloud ceiling is so low that at its lowest, the turbine propellers are lost in the fog. 27 kilometers northwest of Ostend, dozens of blades turn languidly over the grey water that mirrors the grey sky. On Tuesday, the rotor of the very last wind turbine in C-Power park was slowly raised above the water, one hundred and thirty tons, one hundred meters over the water. In several weeks following the final adjustments, two parks, Belwind and C-Power, will supply Belgium’s green power. Others will follow, since no less than five additional leases have been approved.

54 turbines generate a total of 295 megawatts of power, the equivalent of one third of a nuclear power plant like Tihange. C-Power is the first wind park completely off the coast of Belgium. Belwind is 50% developed and leaves the sea after only a few miles.

C-Power also boasts six historic wind turbines. They are perched on a single tower whereas their neighbors are at the top of a metallic structure. They have been churning there since 2009. “The technology has leapt forward in the past few years,” explains Luc Vandenbulcke, the general manager for GeoSea, a subsidiary of Deme. This company is a major player in maritime dredging and engineering, responsible for the installation and maintenance of C-Power’s turbines. “Toward the end of the 1990’s, the most powerful available turbine was 1 MW. In 2009 the maximum power that could be delivered was 5 MW. Now, the German Repower turbines that we install generate 6.15 MW. Researchers are working on even more powerful turbines.”   

On the docks of Ostend, Alstom, the French builder, has temporarily stored a new type of 6 MW turbine rotor that works without a gearbox and uses a permanent magnetic alternator. This giant’s wingspan spreads 150 meters in diameter. In comparison, most onshore turbines can generate 2 to 3.5 MW. An offshore turbine is supposed to function at a nominal power of 3,300 hours per year versus 2,200hrs/year onshore.

The OSA Goliath planted its four “feet” on the bottom near the last pylons supporting the turbine’s tower, dug into 50 meters of sand and clay. The large rectangular vessel carries the rotor and the crane that will lift it to the top of the tower. Evi Smets who has been an engineer with GeoSea for 9 years explains, “Once the feet are firmly set on the bottom, the boat begins to ‘climb’ up along them to bring the three blades as close to the top as possible.” The crane then does the rest.

48 of the 54 park turbines are already injecting power into the system. Once they are completely finished, Belwind and C-Power together will supply almost 20% of the total capacity needed to meet Belgium’s goals for renewable energy production (13% of energy consumption by 2020).

A new chapter begins for GeoSea where the Northern Gannets fly. A ship patrols twenty-four hours a day to make sure boats do not trespass into the exclusion zone. It’ll simply have to move on.

The company, founded in 2005, has created new employment, increasing from 15 to 300 employees of which 100 are engineers. It expects average annual revenue of €350 to €400 million for 2013 and 2014. It has already set up shop on other shores.

The Westermost Rough, off the coast of Hull (United Kingdom) will bristle with 35 machines. The Borkum Riffgrund 1, near the German coast, will have 77. “The far-east markets are very promising,” states Vandenbulcke “but for now, we are concentrating on Europe.”

The Belgian company is not limited to wind turbines. It is also participating in a wave power research project off the coast of Ostend. It has also obtained a lease to develop a tidal project in Scotland.

MICHEL DE MUELENAERE

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