The Netherlands’ national electric company, TenneT, wants to build the world’s largest wind farm facility–a development so large, it will produce 30 gigawatts, enough electricity to power a city of 20 million people (or roughly 24 time-travel trips in a DeLorean).
For comparison’s sake, the current largest wind farm in the world is the London Array, located in the outer Thames Estuary. It produces 630 megawatts, or 48 times less than TenneT’s planned project. Meanwhile, the largest land-borne wind farm, the Gansu Wind Farm in China, has a planned maximum throughput of 20 gigawatts by 2020. China is using only a fraction of its power at this time, because it doesn’t need so much energy. The most powerful nuclear plant in the United States–the three-reactor Palo Verde facility in Arizona–can only produce 3.9 gigawatts.
TenneT’s plan is also notable because of the investment it will take to build it–right in the middle of the North Sea, anchored on an artificial island built on a shallow area 78 miles off the coast of England called the Dogger Bank.
The total cost of the project will be in the billions, but the Dutch company is convinced that it will be a great investment thanks to three factors: The massive economies of scale, the powerful winds that blow permanently over Dogger Bank, and an old trick that will allow them to transport electricity over large distances without wasting energy. Instead of using alternate current–the type that windmills produce–TenneT will convert AC to high voltage direct current. This type of current can travel over extremely long cables with minimal power loss. Located so far from land, the plant wouldn’t be economically feasible without this tech.
The company will also need to build a 1,400-acre artificial island in the middle of Dogger Bank to hold the conversion equipment, including the so-called “rectifiers.” The island, which will cost a whopping $1.8 billion to build, will act as a hub that connects all the wind farm fields with the conversion equipment and, from there, to millions of homes in the United Kingdom, Netherlands, and, in a later phase, perhaps Belgium, Germany, and Denmark, using undersea cables. This structure will also allow them to sell power at the highest possible price dynamically, by diverting electricity to the markets with higher demand and thus, higher energy prices.
According to some experts consulted by The Guardian, the idea seems technologically and economically feasible. At least feasible enough for the Crown Estate–the British public corporation that owns the island’s seabed–to study the project. Whatever happens, however, it’s clear that we’ll all need to think outside of the box to satisfy humanity’s growing energy needs. At the end of 2017, we saw another futuristic energy project–the largest power battery in the world, built by Tesla in Australia–work successfully. Perhaps projects like these could serve as a stopgap measure until we finally get commercial fusion reactors.