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Europe's offshore wind industry booming as costs fall

On a sunny October morning, our boat passes the run-down relicts of Liverpool’s maritime past and heads down the river Mersey and into the Irish Sea. As we steam offshore, I see in the distance a cluster of tall structures that soon reveal themselves to be towers of a wind turbine array. Arriving at the windfarm, six miles offshore, the turbines rise as high as 650ft, taller than the tallest church in the world. Each of the turbines’ three shiny metallic rotor blades is nearly 300ft long.

“A single rotation of an eight-megawatt turbine will cover the daily electricity consumption of an average British household,” says Benj Sykes, vice president of Dong Energy Wind Power, the company that is constructing and co-owns this wind project, as the boat rocks in five-foot swells.

Workers have been busy at the Burbo Bank extension, named for this patch of the Irish Sea, since June, using gigantic cranes to drive foundations 50ft into the sea floor. With a design capacity of eight megawatts each, the 32 turbines are the most powerful ever installed at a commercial offshore windfarm. Once the rotors start spinning later this year, the Burbo Bank windfarm will be able to power 230,000 households – enough to run Liverpool city, with its 466,000 inhabitants.

In Europe, offshore wind farms like the one at Burbo Bank are undergoing a boom. While still significantly outnumbered by windfarms on land, the importance of windfarms at sea has grown dramatically in the past several years. Until 2011, between 5 and 10% of newly installed wind energy capacity in Europe was offshore. Last year, almost every third new wind turbine went up offshore. That growth has helped boost the share of wind energy in the European Union’s electricity supply from 2% in the year 2000 to 12% today, according to WindEurope, a business advocacy group.

New investments for offshore projects totaled $15.5bn in the first half of 2016 alone, according to WindEurope, and newly installed offshore wind energy capacity will double to 3.7 gigawatts this year compared to 2015. More than 3,300 grid-connected turbines now exist in the North Sea, the Baltic Sea, and the Irish Sea, and 114 new wind turbines were linked to the grid in European waters in the first half of this year alone. This is in stark contrast to the US and Asia, where offshore wind use is only just getting started.

The offshore wind boom is part of a wider move from fossil fuels to renewable energy across the European Union. The overall share of renewable electricity sources in the EU – hydropower, wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal – has gone up from about 15% in 2004 to roughly 33% in 2014, according to data from Eurostat and Entso-E, the association of grid operators. Along with solar photovoltaic power, wind energy is driving this expansion. Newly installed wind energy capacity amounted to 13 gigawatts in 2015, twice as much as newly installed fossil fuel and nuclear capacity combined. WindEurope claims that all European wind turbines taken together can now generate enough electricity for 87m households.

This is not only a result of government subsidies and incentives, but also of dramatically reduced production costs for wind energy. The price for a megawatt hour is now between €50 and €96 for onshore wind and €73 to €140 for offshore wind, compared to around €65 to €70 for gas and coal. Electricity generated from onshore windfarms is now the cheapest among newly installed power sources in the UK and many other countries. If environmental costs are considered, the picture looks even more favorable for wind power.

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Two tankers collide off Belgian coast

This morning two tankers collided 30km off the Belgian coast. This has meantime been confirmed by the Maritime Rescue and Coordination Centre (MRCC). Only material damage was reported.

How the accident could happen is still under investigation. The tanker "Ridgebury Kathrine Z" (Marshall Islands flag) was empty and at anchor at Westhinder anchorage when it was struck by the "Maistros" (Liberian flag) which was loaded. It is currently being examined what cargo the "Maistros" was carrying.

Authorities are checking the extent of the damage and what the desintation of both vessels is. Based on their findings it will be decided if the vessels can continue their voyage.

Deepest blue hole found in South China Sea

In case you aren’t already well versed in the realm of deep blue holes, aka oceanic sinkholes, there’s a massive one near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea scientists recently measured to be 987 feet deep. Dubbed the “Dragon Hole,” it’s 300 feet deeper than Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas, leading researchers to believe it could be the deepest blue hole on the planet.

A blue hole is a large marine cavern or sinkhole, which is open to the surface and has developed in a bank or island composed of a carbonate bedrock (limestone or coral reef).


Because a hole of that depth is far too pressurized for a diver to fully explore, the Sansha Ship Course Research Institute for Coral Protection used a robot with a depth sensor to get an accurate measurement. In addition to calculating depth, researchers were able to identify 20 fish species located mainly in the upper 300 feet of the hole since little to no oxygen exists deeper than 330 feet.

Sure, they’re mesmerizing to look at, but what’s the point of deep blue holes, scientifically speaking? According to Huffington Post, Ocean University of China Professor Yang Zuosheng explained their significance to CCTV, saying:

    “Research into a blue hole can provide detailed records of how the climate or water level changes over tens of thousands of years. Once we have that data, we can deduct the pattern of evolution for climate change in the South China Sea, including its ecosystem, hydrological system, and its landform.”

Officially named the Sansha Yongle Blue Hole, local administrators say they intend to “protect the natural legacy left by the Earth,” Sansha City vice mayor Xu Zhifei told China’s state-run news agency, Xinhua.

While the Dragon Hole is now the world's deepest "blue hole," it's not the world's deepest sinkhole. That distinction belongs to the Pozzo del Merro in Italy, the deepest underwater vertical cave in the world with a depth of 1,286 feet.

Though the Dragon Hole’s depth will have to be independently verified if it wants to solidify its title as deepest blue hole in the world, considering there are likely many others out there that have yet to be identified. With so much ocean yet to explore, why not pitch in yourself? According to CNN, you can buy your own underwater drone for less than $1,000 dollars and explore the seas to your heart’s content—all from the comfort of your living room. How’s that for a modern-day Captain Ahab?

Sources: GOOD, YouTube, mnn