June 15th marks Global Wind Day. Wind has enormous potential as a clean, renewable energy source and will undoubtedly play a crucial role in the transition away from fossil fuels. Dulas has supported the onshore wind industry since the 90s, actually erecting the first 10m mast in Cemmaes, Wales in 1988. The industry has come a long way since then and Dulas continues to evolve and lead the way with its consultancy services.
To mark Global Wind Day we asked Dulas’s Head of Wind Monitoring Rachel Munday to share her thoughts on working in the wind industry and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
Could you summarise what you do at Dulas Rachel?
I manage the wind monitoring team at Dulas. We install, maintain and decommission meteorological masts and remote sensing equipment which are provided to wind farm developers to enable them to accurately assess the wind resource at potential wind farm sites. We are also instrument specialists, designing met mast data packages, building bespoke data loggers and remote sensing power systems. Accurately capturing and recording the site data is the most important part of wind development because, without data, wind developers cannot attract the investment required for such projects or make evidence-based decisions on their development portfolio. It also helps developers to get the most energy generation out of a site.
How would you say attitudes have changed towards wind energy over the years?
The industry is constantly evolving, with new and more effective technology. There is also greater political pressure to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and address the impacts of climate change. Thankfully public attitudes have changed significantly regarding both the visual impact of, and the need for, the infrastructure for installed renewable energy projects and Government policies and support mechanisms have also improved over the last decade.
I imagine this growing support will continue as the cost of energy rises and the supply of energy from fossil fuels continues to be unpredictable.
What are some of the most memorable moments/projects for you personally in your role in the wind industry?
I love being out on site with the installation crew – my first ever site visit was to a clear fell site in November in Dumfries & Galloway – it started to sleet and it was muddy but the crew were great and I had a memorable day installing the bird diverters on the guy wires.
What do you particularly find challenging/rewarding about embarking on a project?
What I find most challenging and interesting about starting on a project is if a client is unsure of the met mast locations or is unfamiliar with the site themselves. In that instance you have to do a lot of desktop research and investigating, for example looking at satellite imagery and maps trying to figure out possible access routes for the team to take, just so that they can get to the site to do a preliminary site survey. But that is also what makes the job interesting too.
You start building up a picture of the site in your mind; the access issues, the hazards the team will face. I really enjoy talking to the landowners too, because inevitably they’ve worked the land for generations, and can tell you everything you will ever need to know about the site. The most rewarding thing about a project is facing big problems and overcoming them. It is a great challenge to work together with clients to overcome obstacles along the way, the bigger the obstacle the more satisfying it is at the end, and of course being a small cog in the wheel of renewable energy.
What are the key elements of excellent project delivery in your field of work?
Ensuring projects are well planned before they start. Unless a site is known to us we require a site visit to be undertaken to check access, ground and site conditions and that there is actually space to undertake the installation. A robust Health & Safety approach is absolutely paramount, we make sure everyone has the training and experience to carry out their roles and we never cut corners or take risks. Excellent project delivery only happens if everyone knows exactly what they need to be doing every step of the way.
How has technology evolved over the years and what to you were the big game changers in generation and/or measurement?
Lidar technology has been a game changer due to its ability to measure wind speeds at much greater heights in multiple locations around a site. This technology will continue to become more sophisticated. We still find clients want confirmation data from a mast but a ground-based laser system is a very useful initial and mobile wind measurement tool. Turbines are also getting taller, in order to maximise energy generation, so where existing operational windfarms are being expanded with newer, taller turbines, lidar technology can be used to augment data if the existing met mast is not tall enough.
What are the current challenges facing the wind industry?
Sites are becoming more remote and harder to access simply because the easier schemes have been completed.
Planning has also been delayed since Covid – the public meetings required simply couldn’t take place during lockdown and this has slowed down the development process.
Grid capacity is a huge issue, particularly in Wales. Significant investment is required to resolve this if we are to harness the vast supply of natural resources that we have on our door step.
There is a worry that the war in Ukraine and sanctions against Russia and the resulting energy crisis may have a knock-on effect on the level of funding put towards incentivising more renewable energy. Already we are hearing stories about a ‘fossil fuel goldrush’ with countries investing in new oil and gas projects.
Do you think public opinion towards masts and turbines has changed/is changing and what would you say to those who still need persuading?
These days polls seem to be consistently saying that the majority of people want onshore wind – though perhaps not on their door step! It can be very divisive, with those who are opposed being very vocal and entrenched. I personally think wind turbines are beautiful and so elegant as they turn. Many rural communities benefit from wind energy projects with jobs in manufacturing, transportation and project construction. Some projects are community owned and infrastructure is often improved – the reality is very different from what we see reported in the press. Needless to say, we also all benefit from lower emissions of greenhouse gases!
What milestones are Dulas particularly proud of over the years?
First of all, we are proud of our people and their commitment to our vision. Our employees are highly skilled engineers, consultants and project managers who work hard to ensure renewable projects are well designed, consented, implemented effectively, optimised and looked after.
We are also very proud of the difference we have made to the UK renewable energy market. Our expert planners and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) specialists are directly responsible for ensuring consent for a wide variety of renewable energy projects across the UK and Ireland, in particular some 550MW of dedicated wind energy projects, along with more than 420MW of solar PV. Our teams of engineers maintain and help optimise many renewable energy systems, directly contributing to a reduction in fossil fuel use in the UK.
What projects does Dulas currently have in the pipeline and what hopes do you have for the future?
We have several ongoing large-scale Environment Impact Assessments for onshore wind that we are managing on behalf of clients and we are undertaking many complex wind monitoring projects using meteorological masts and remote sensing equipment for early-stage wind projects. We are a windy island! The UK has vast potential to produce more electricity from onshore wind farms – this could cut household energy bills significantly and ensure we have a reliable local source of clean energy – we’d love to see more of this potential unlocked.