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The helicopter leaves London's urban stain behind, advances over the Thames estuary and heads towards the North Sea. Gone is the London Array, which was for a time the largest wind farm in the world, surpassed on the march by the Hornsea One, in rivalry with the East Anglia One that builds Iberdrola 50 kilometers off the coast of Suffolk and on which now we fly.
The Siemens Gamesa turbines remind us from above of the grinders we were blowing for children in the countryside. Perfectly aligned on the silver sea, they extend over a blue surface of 300 square kilometers. When we approach its height is when we get an idea of its authentic dimension: the diameter of the rotor, with the blades at full capacity, is 167 meters (a football field and a half).
Impress also the white masts, anchored to the seabed on 40 meter piles and foundations of type "jacket", also "made in Spain" (Windar, in Aviles, and Navantia, in Fene). The Mad Max marine substation is called Andalucía II and has been manufactured in Puerto Real. There the electricity produced by the wind turbines is collected and the voltage is transformed to be able to transfer it to the ground substation in Burstall (through two export cables at the bottom of the sea, each 85 kilometers).
"Just ten years ago, there were four people in our department and when we talked about offshore wind it seemed like science fiction, " recalls Alvaro Martínez Palacios, director of offshore operations at Iberdrola. "We are facing engineering projects of the first magnitude and with very high precision technology. Everything evolves so fast that when we talk about the largest park in the world there is always a bigger one in planning. Here we operate with seven megawatt turbines, but we are already working in ten megawatt turbine projects. "
We arrived by helicopter to East Anglia One right at the equator of the construction of the marine wind farm with 714 megawatts of capacity, which will provide energy for 630,000 homes with its long hundred wind turbines from next year, when it will become the second largest park wind power of the world. With the three successive projects that come behind (East Anglia One North, East Anglia Two and East Anglia Three) the final capacity will be multiplied by five.
Eight million British homes
"Sustainability is defined like this: do what you have to do now without compromising future generations," said Jonathan Cole, with his strong Scottish accent, leading the global offshore business of Iberdrola, and link with the subsidiary Scottish Power, which aspires to be the first of the six great British one hundred percent renewable. "By 2020, more than eight million British households will be supplied by wind turbines at sea, and the prospects are unbeatable as technology improves and costs are reduced."
With its regime of winds and shallow waters, which allow the anchoring of the turbines to the seabed, the coasts of the North Sea and the Irish Sea are something like El Dorado of offshore wind, in rigorous competition with the Baltic (hence the strength of Germany and Denmark, the other two major European powers of the sector).
"In Spain we have very deep waters and a use of the coasts that makes difficult the development of the marine parks", recognizes Álvaro Martínez Palacios. "But there is no losing battle, and the development of floating turbines (with Japan leading the way) can change the equation."
The United Kingdom has consolidated its status as a world leader in offshore wind, with China squeezing the accelerator and ready to give the sorpasso in the coming months. Unlike onshore wind and the ups and downs of solar energy, the British Government has followed a very continuous policy of supporting offshore wind, which in 2030 could reach 30 gigawatts and supply a quarter of households British.
The 'United Nations' of wind power
With its projects in the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany and France, Iberdrola, for its part, aspires to climb to the offshore wind race podium, in close competition with E.On and behind only the two giants of the sector: Orsted and Vattenfalll. The East Anglia One park has required an investment of 2.9 billion euros and has created not only a tractor effect in Spain, but also in British companies such as Harland & Wolf or even United Arab Emirates (Lamprell).
More than 2,000 workers - something like the United Nations offshore - have brought up the ember in the project, as the documentary United by the wind attests.
"Offshore wind has been the lifeline of the shipping industry in Spain, " acknowledges José Luis Ponce, from Galictio. Emma Browning, environmental adviser of the project, emphasizes the burial of structures on land to avoid the impact on the coasts and in the native fauna, with the construction of an eco-barrier. And Stan Clouton, responsible for security, recreates the effort that the staff of sailors, installers and divers have had to make in the midst of the intense waves of the North Sea so that the promise of offshore wind takes off.
Today is, however, a strangely placid day on the British coast. The helicopter returns to its base on land after this unique foray into a future of zero emissions. Premier Boris Johnson reiterates in the meantime his purpose of achieving carbon neutrality in the United Kingdom in 2050, with the permission of Brexit.
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