Brits Mean Business

Jenny Gardner, director of UK Trade and Investment in Stockholm, blogs about Britain, Sweden and doing business.

Blowing in the wind

The weather is a popular topic of conversation in both the UK and Sweden. You can never go wrong talking about the weather. What it was like yesterday, whether it was a good summer and will it rain tomorrow?

 Sometimes we experience catastrophic weather or changes in weather patterns that affect us in a longer-term perspective – making us move and perhaps changing what we farm and eat.

We have brilliant comedy about the weather – like the “Bloody Weather” in Monty Python and The Holy Grail, where the weather basically just makes too much noise by jumping up and down and is told to ‘clear off’.

The weather affects us all and in some ways it can control our day. One thing we can always be sure of is that there will be more weather tomorrow.

At the same time the world is facing several challenges. We have a growing population, increasing production and consumption and, facing a decreasing supply of fossil fuels, a need to secure new energy resources. We need to find sources of energy that will not run out – renewable energy. If we also manage to generate our energy in ways that do not impact too heavily on the natural world or create too great a carbon footprint, then we may successfully secure our children’s and grand-children’s future.

With this perspective in mind, I am following the developing cooperation between the UK and Sweden within the Renewable Energy sector with great interest. There are several different areas to look at. The movement of water is an important source of energy. Sweden is to a large extent already reliant on water, with hydro-power generated by its rivers. As both countries are largely surrounded by water, research into wave and tidal energy could also develop some interesting alternatives. Biomass is another type of renewable, which uses biological material derived from living, or recently living organisms (such as energy crops) or previously consumed bio-material (i.e. waste) as an energy source.

But then there is the weather – we have solar power and wind power. Wind power is currently seen as an area of possibilities when it comes to creating viable renewable sources of energy. While investing in wind power is still expensive and the technology still requires further refinement, it is a most interesting and exciting area. 

I had recently the opportunity to enjoy a lot of weather, or more specifically a lot of wind, when I attended the inauguration of the Ormonde Offshore Wind Farm in the waters outside Cumbria in the Northwest of England. Vattenfall has built a big offshore wind farm consisting of 30 large 5 MW wind turbines. It was indeed a windy and rainy day. The boat we travelled out to the wind farm in looked big in the harbour, but felt tiny out on the Irish Sea and even smaller when we approached the wind farm itself. It was impressive to see the nacelles, which stand a towering 152 metres high. I was interested to learn how the electricity was being generated and collected by a substation in the centre and how the electricity was sent from there through cables back to the mainland. The Ormonde Wind Farm is expected to generate more than 500 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity per year. The wind turbines seemed very futuristic with their huge rotating blades. As I have a weakness for sci-fi, I could not help feeling excited about this seemingly silent and efficient artificial forest. The farm is forecast to generate electricity for 100,000 households and last for 20-25 years.

Is this the future? Well, to me it certainly looks like a good part of it.

I could not help again thinking about the Monty Python skit from “The Holy Grail” and the idea of trying to harvest energy from the weather jumping up and down. Once back on dry land, I could not resist turning to one of my fellow boaters to say “I wonder if it’ll be windy again tomorrow?” And perhaps rather unusually, I found myself fervently hoping that it would be.

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