19 May 2008

Power from the Islands

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Three 65-metres high wind turbines are to forever change the face of the Högsåra archipelago off the coast of Finland. (May '08)

In the spring of 2004, construction began on what is probably the most revolutionary project Högsåra in Finland has ever seen. This initiated a very special type of island adventure. Three approximately 65 metre high wind turbines are to forever change the face of the afforested archipelago off the coast of Finland. The special thing about it: together with the European Commission, the 50 person strong community has discovered that wind energy is a project worth fighting for.

Högsåra is an archipelago off the southwest coast of Finland, approximately 150 kilometres away from Helsinki. Its 50 permanent inhabitants enjoy their lives and the remoteness of the afforested 3,5km long and 2,5 km wide island. A ferry has only connected the island to the mainland since 2000, running 7 times daily. Only in the summer is the island taken over by about 100 to 150 summer guests. The visitors enjoy the water, the sun and the steady cold wind. In fact, the archipelago shares many of the same wind conditions present on the high seas. That gave the clever islander Mats Enberg the idea of turning this place into one which takes advantage of wind energy. In his normal life, Mats Enberg is an instructor at the Sydväst University of Applied Sciences in Turku, but he has always been fascinated by wind energy. He soon found important partners in companies like Hafmex Windforce, VTT and Harakosan, his idea gaining the support of the European Commision under the title Högsåra Island Demonstration Project, abbreviated HISP.

Due to the conditions prevailing on site, the project demanded creative innovations from scientists, engineers, builders and islanders alike. In order for materials to be transported to the planned locations of the three two-megawatt turbines under the safest possible conditions, these were first shipped to the island on a barge and thereafter by truck over temporarily widened village roads. In order to lay the foundation, anchors were drilled 20 metres down into the solid bedrock. This made a smaller foundation possible using a third of concrete than with normal turbines of similar size. In three stages, the 62,5 metre high towers were hoisted up with cranes and the 50 ton generator was lifted to the nacelle. Each individual rotor blade is 34 metres long. All three were assembled on the ground and then hoisted up and mounted by crane as well.

The islanders voted nearly unanimously for the project. Starting in autumn 2007, they along with the project initiator Mats Enberg have been able to profit from the electricity generated by the wind. At an average monthly speed of approximately 7 meters per second, enough electricity is generated to provide for the demands of about 800 Finnish households - many more than on Högsåra itself. The energy produced by the wind generators is fed in to 20 kilovolt distribution power grid. The adaptation of the wind generators to the weak power grid manifested itself as another challenge for the project.

Before the wind turbines were brought out to the archipelago, measurements were taken of wind strength, wind direction and ground quality. Moreover, they inquired about the ways the wind turbines could affect nature or residents through noise and visual appearance. VTT – Technical Research Center of Finland, collected data and came to the conclusion that the wind power stations could become an economically successful future project on the archipelago. The island offers nearly the same characteristics as offshore facilities, but is easier to access and the windmills can be erected and maintained with less financial and logistical difficulties. For Finland, the Högsåra Island Demonstration Project thus became a groundbreaking pilot project. The current state of the usage of wind power in Finland is 100 megawatts, which accounts for 0,2 percent of Finlands whole energy consumption. But the government is planning to increase the usage of wind power in Finland and already supports small scale projects with some new innovations, like the HISP project. The approximately 190.000 islands along Finland’s coast could end up playing a very important role in that effort.

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