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Renewable Energy - State of Cornwall Report

Professor Richard Cochrane, Associate Professor for Renewable Energy, University of Exeter (Penryn Campus).

Key findings:

  • Cornwall has a long history of pioneering energy developments, and was the site of the country's first wind farm.
  • Currently, Cornwall is leading energy developments in hot rocks and offshore wind turbines.

Cornwall has pioneered energy developments for centuries. Back in the 17th century Cornwall developed steam engines to pump water from the mines that were being explored and to winch the miners in and out of the mine shafts. This technology was rolled out extensively across Cornwall but also exported to mines around the world. These steam engines were powered by coal which is not good for global warming but Cornwall was also pioneering in developing clean energy in the UK. 

The country’s first wind farm was built at Delabole in 1991 and showed how well wind turbines can work to provide clean electricity. This wind farm and subsequent ones developed in Cornwall have now been repowered where the turbines have been replaced with new, larger machines. This has highlighted how well the wind turbine technology has developed with the new turbines generating many times more power than the old machines but are also quieter and more reliable.

Cornwall was also pioneering in solar farm development and the knowledge gained from these solar arrays has been used to improve design and performance of solar farms across the country and around the world.

Recent developments have demonstrated the benefits of the hot rocks that span across Cornwall can deliver in terms of geothermal heat and electricity. Drilling down 5 km into the granite has delivered temperatures close to 200°C which can be put through a turbine to generate electricity and the surplus heat will be used to heat homes and industrial activities.

The latest developments relate to new offshore wind turbines, which sit on floating structures. The sea around Cornwall gets deep quickly so conventional offshore wind turbines which are fixed to the seabed are not viable but floating structures can open up many new sites and provide large amounts of clean energy for Cornwall and the rest of the UK. Floating turbines can have a lower environmental impact and can be placed further from the shore reducing any visual impact.  Cornwall’s major input to this area is in looking at reducing the carbon footprint of manufacturing the turbines and maximising the opportunities for local jobs to build and maintain the turbines.