A few yellow dots break the monotony of the landscape 40 minutes after leaving the port of Vlissingen (Holland) in the direction of England. It has been 115 kilometers of water and boats from a bird's eye view, so the engineer Alberto Ávila enthusiastically points out the new facilities that stand out from the sea. It has been years dedicated to them and the time to see them complete is getting closer and closer. In the coming months, a wind turbine will be installed on each one and the entire structure will be as high, 235 meters from the tip of the shovel to the seabed, as the second tallest skyscraper in the United Kingdom. This is East Anglia ONE, the largest maritime wind farm of the world under construction. A logistical and economic challenge, with a total investment approaching 3,000 million euros, in which it is key to anticipate each setback. And there is no shortage: from the strong currents of the North Sea to bombs forgotten seven decades ago. But that's what the engineer will talk about later, before going to the presentations.
Ávila, a 39-year-old Mexican, is responsible for the port and installation of foundations of the megaproject of ScottishPower Renewables, a subsidiary of Iberdrola. The Spanish company has invited three media outlets to visit it, including EL PAÍS, and the civil works engineer – "the equivalent of roads, canals and ports in Spain", he clarifies – he acts as host in the helicopter. Among the noise of the blades, tells an endless number of overwhelming figures. The 33 jackets (As we know the bases on which the turbines are installed) that already appear from the water their yellow heads are almost a third of the 102 that the park will have. Each one is fixed to the ground with three piles, gigantic metal tubes that sink a good part of their 50 meters long on the ocean floor by hammering them with a special boat. Down there, the Bokalift 1, a ship that serves for these operations. That versatility is paid: "It costs 200,000 pounds (228,000 euros) a day," says Ávila while rubbing his thumb and forefinger to confirm that it is a lot of money. So days like this, sunny and with optimal maritime conditions to work, are a blessing. Placing three piles takes about 20 hours, to which you have to add another nine to fit the jacket in them. Then another boat will fill the remaining gap with cement to consolidate these underwater foundations.
With 300 square kilometers, the park occupies an area about three times the city of Barcelona. Of its six rows of turbines, the longest will draw a straight line over the sea of 24 kilometers. Or almost straight because of, among other reasons, the Nazi bombers. In fact, when the engineer is asked why some turbine supports seem to leave a few meters from the traced axis, the response starts apparently monotonous but ends up astonishing. "One of the challenges of this park is that it is based on large waves of sand that are mobile. Some structures also have to be modified because there are bombs from the Second World War, "he explains. Before the ojiplática glance that is, it develops a story on pilots of the Luftwaffe of Hitler that in occasions loose their load on the sea to flee faster than the English fighters that left to their step. It was a known circumstance, so in the first phase of the project, when a magnetometer scanned every foot of the sea floor of East Anglia ONE to know all its anomalies, along with anchors and other forgotten iron masses, also appeared some old pump .
The anecdote is a good example of the challenges posed by such an installation in the Channel. More than the huge waves or the storms, what most engineers need is underwater. Ávila and the 15 people on his team – "an Australian has just arrived, so we already have people from all continents", he says with satisfaction – they know practically everything that moves, including the masses of water that move quickly because of of strong marine currents. Underwater robots assist in all operations.
Participation Andalusian, Galician and Asturian
One of the most important took place recently and is responsible for a green and white banner in the center of the park with a huge sign: ANDALUCÍA II. That's what it's called the largest substation marine in alternating current of the world. Iberdrola repeated the formula of German park of Wikinger and commissioned to build Navantia in Puerto Real (Cádiz). Amadored by the Andalusian president, Susana Díaz, she left the shipyard in Cadiz on August 4 and arrived 27 days later to its final location in British waters. From there, the huge cable that will carry the electricity to the English coast, 85 kilometers further, will leave. Inside, about 60 electrical engineers already work in eight-hour shifts that never stop. Every minute counts on the East Anglia ONE and the hotel boat that welcomes them, a curious orange structure that rises with four long metal legs above sea level and tends a walkway to the substation, takes the engineer to rub his thumb and the index: "80,000 pounds a day", sentence. About 91,000 euros.
But the substation is not the only Spanish contribution to the work. The technical engineer Juan Francisco Martínez was born circumstantially in Alicante 37 years ago, but he makes it clear that he is from Albacete. He has traveled half the world working for Iberdrola and for 8 months he lives in Vlissingen. All piles arrive at the Dutch port jackets and Martínez is in charge of reviewing them before the final journey to the East Anglia ONE. They must be perfectly prepared to resist the strong maritime erosion, so in case of any damage, your team is responsible for welding them or giving them a coat of paint where necessary. The reason for being on the mainland, and not on the English coast – from where Ávila's team works and where most of the operations will be transferred in later phases of the project – is the 220 linear meters of quay reserved exclusively for operations. . "If necessary, we can ask for permission to use up to 500," he warns.
Strolling between the large cylinders and the huge metal towers, Martínez points out that a good part have been manufactured in northern Spain. In fact, Navantia is also responsible for the construction of 40 jackets at its facilities in Fene (A Coruña) and the 120 piles needed to fix them to the bottom of the sea come from the Windar factory in Avilés (Asturias). The rest will be manufactured between China, the United Arab Emirates and Northern Ireland. When Martinez finished the race he had not seen a wind turbine in his life. Remember the first one you saw, in 2008: "I was shocked." And that, apostille, that single It measured 45 meters. Those of the East Anglia ONE, although they will not pass through this port, will be 75 meters long and have a total diameter of 154 per wind turbine. They will turn at a speed that, although from a distance it seems slow, reaches 300 kilometers per hour at the ends. By 2020, they will provide enough clean energy for 600,000 homes in the United Kingdom with 714 megawatts. The figures are again dizzy and, as with everything in this mammoth project, a comparison seems essential. Martinez puts it with a smile: "It would serve for the entire province of Albacete and could still be given a part to Cuenca."