At the edge of the Firth of Forth, in the deep waters of the North Sea, is a stretch of ocean that is set to be home to what may well be the biggest offshore wind farm in the world when it goes online, as its developers hope, in 2026. Giant turbines, as many as 307, will spin, generating enough to power Scotland’s homes twice over.

Its project director is SSE’s Alex Meredith, a man who has been working in the clean energy and renewables sector for many years, and says that Berwick Bank is far bigger than any previous project he has been involved in. It represents, for his team, “the opportunity to work on a really tough engineering and environmental challenge” but also make “a massive contribution to the world’s most difficult problem at the moment”.

“We all know,” he says, “that we’re not going to solve climate change without taking some big steps. Everyone can do little things, but if you can do things at scale then you can really move the dial.”

READ MORE: Scotland’s offshore wind farm power and potential visualised

Among the challenges of the project is dealing with the geology of the seabed and constructing at depths more extreme even than those of nearby Seagreen, off Angus, also developed by SSE, which is currently, at 59 metres below sea level, the deepest project in Scotland.

“We’re going to be working with some difficult conditions,” says Mr Meredith, “and that obviously has challenges in terms of the scale of the infrastructure you need to put in to protect from the elements.”

HeraldScotland: Map showing the location of Berwick Bank windfarm

With a deadline of 2026, as Mr Meredith points out, the speed of this development, is set, in terms of industry, to be very rapid. “To get to where we need to get to,” he says, “that’s quite a short timeline and we’re always pushing to deliver the project faster. “

An analysis carried out by renewable energy consultant BVG Associates has calculated Berwick Bank could bring around £4.1 billion to the Scottish economy, thousands of jobs, and the ability to power more than five million homes.

The seabed lease was awarded to SSE in 2010, during the third round of leasing by the Crown Estate and was part of a large zone that also included Seagreen, which has already seen its first turbines go online, with the rest due by next spring. It’s partly the success of Seagreen that has seen the company push to accelerate the development of the rest of the site as a single project.

“What we decided to do last year was to say instead of doing this chunk by chunk, let’s do the whole of the rest of the zone. Given the climate emergency and the need for renewable energy to meet 2050 and 2045 targets, let’s go for the greatest possible capacity to deliver the most green energy we can in the time that we can..”

As the project has developed the site has been reduced in size, chiefly to minimise its impact on sea birds and other marine life, whilst maintaining its 4.1GW capacity. In the process of this planning, the seabed has been mapped and studied.

“The geological and technological conditions are such,” says Mr Meredith, “that until you actually get out there with vessels to dig and bore holes to understand what’s in the ground, you don’t necessarily know where you are going to go."

“The seabed is not flat, there are a whole load of contours and different geological formations that mean some areas of that zone can be delivered as a wind farm and some can’t. There are shipwrecks in that area, cables you can’t see and can’t be moved. Now we know more about the site and we still think we can deliver 4.1GW within a smaller area.”

There are a number of reasons this area of seabed has been chosen as a wind farm site. “You won’t be surprised to hear it’s because it’s very windy,” says Mr Meredith.

There is also the necessity of a connection to the grid - and the first two grid connections are in the Dunbar area, since Torness power station already has a grid connection.

Among the changes Mr Meredith would like to see is “more enforcement to bring more capacity south from Scotland”.

He says: “Scotland is a great place for wind, because the wind is strong, consistent and most of the year round, though there are peaks and troughs. So Scotland supporting massive amounts of wind power for the UK grid is a great thing – but you need the wires to get it south.”

One of the problems with getting that power south is there are, he observes, constraints on the grid coming through the Cheviot Hills on the other side of the Border. To circumvent that another connection will be made at Blyth, Northumberland. This connection south of the Border has been the source of controversy, with East Lothian MP Kenny Macaskill describing it as the “Great Berwick Bank robbery”. However, Mr Meredith believes it to be a good solution. “There was an old coal-power station there, so there’s a connection point.”

 

Among the other problems the offshore wind industry may face, he points out, is that the supply chain is increasingly under pressure.

“There are a lot of these projects around, so that means the cost of material goes up, and, with inflation also having an impact, that makes keeping projects at a competitive price for the consumer is a challenge. We need more investment in manufacturing that supports this industry.”

The scale of Berwick Bank, he says, “a step-change in the way Scotland has approached decarbonisation”.One that is vital if we are going to hit net zero targets.