Europe is no longer the dominant region in global wind.
The US has long-term certainty and ambitions that companies in the European Union are crying out for; and Asia, driven by China, has overtaken the EU in terms of annual wind installations.
That was the sobering message that came out of the WindEurope summit in Hamburg two weeks ago. But one area where Europe's wind industry retains an advantage on most players in those other regions is the quality of its turbines. Manufacturers including Vestas, Siemens, Gamesa, Nordex, Enercon and Senvion all invest heavily in developing new machines and improving existing ones. This is helping these firms enter new markets.
And last week a group of manufacturers, developers and utilities published a report, in the guise of the European Technology & Innovation Platform on Wind Energy, that sets out the five steps that the wind sector and the European Union need to take if Europe is to remain a world leader in turbine innovation.
This is also important if the sector worldwide is to keep reducing the cost of wind power; and help nations modify their grids to cope with more wind farms.
ETIPWind said wind companies needed to innovate in the following areas — and that support from the European Union could help:
(1) Improving grid infrastructure: Incorporating higher shares of wind power into nations’ energy grids will increase the need for accurate long-term weather forecasts, and turbines that can provide demand-side management services.
It is up to the wind industry and grid operators to ensure that grid constraints do not curtail the development of new wind farms.
(2) Refining operations and maintenance: Asset management is a maturing discipline in the wind sector, and turbines must do more to capture data about performance and predict faults.
That means standardising sensors for performance measurement and conditioning monitoring; and developing tools for data analysis and diagnosis. This helps improve asset management processes, which can boost returns and extend project lifespans.
(3) Stepping up industrialisation: This is important for the wind sector if it is to achieve economies of scale and gain cooperation across the supply chain.
Key steps should include standardising project designs; and setting design requirements at an international level so that developers are not dealing with different rules in different markets.
(4) Improving offshore installation: Offshore wind has made big moves in the last year to reduce its levelised cost of energy, and is under pressure to hit an LCOE of €80/MWh for all offshore projects by 2025. This should include improving and industrialising offshore transport and installation systems; and stepping up growth in the floating wind sector.
(5) Developing innovative technologies: Wind must innovate in areas including battery storage and intelligent materials if it is to develop the turbines of the future. This will also have the benefit of educating the next generation of pioneers in the wind industry.
ETIPWind said that if the wind sector could innovate in all of these areas then it would help the sector to be one of the main contributors to helping the European Commission achieve its climate and energy targets; and would have benefits outside of the region too. It said economic incentives could help with this.
In our view, this is an area where wind businesses must tread carefully. Financial support can make a big difference to the industry, but firms must also be aware that lobbying loudly for incentives can set a bad impression. It comes down to perception.
We have been vocal before that the industry should fight attempts by governments to cut existing subsidies, because other sectors do and it makes wind look like a serious industry. However, as the levelised cost of energy has fallen, we now see wind offering the cheapest form of new electricity generation in some markets. There is a growing public perception of wind as something that makes sense, from an environmental and business perspective.
This bodes well — and we do not want loud lobbying for handouts to undermine it.
The Irish Government has unveiled changes to its second offshore wind tender that the industry said have created “massive levels of uncertainty”. We look at what this means for the up-to-80GW of offshore wind projects in development in Irish waters.