Surprising results from new research on the obstacles to wind farm development across Europe

In many European countries developers could wait anything from a few months to over a decade to see their planned wind farm completed, and the most developed wind energy countries may be those where it takes the longest.

Those are some of the preliminary findings from the first ever EU investigation of the administrative and grid barriers to wind energy projects, in the form of an EU funded  project coordinated by EWEA.

“According to our results the average time from start to finish of a wind power project in the EU – what we call the ‘lead time’ – is four years and seven months, including both the building consent and the grid connection”, explains Dorina Iuga, Project Manager at EWEA.

“However, there was a considerable range of times in several countries, with the shortest being three months and the longest, 13 years.”

One of the most unexpected trends to emerge from the project so far is that the more mature wind countries often have longer lead times.

“The biggest surprise is Spain, which has the highest average lead times in Europe at over six years according to our results”, says Sune Strøm, project partner from the Danish Wind Industry Association, whose task is to analyse the results on the administrative barriers.

“On the other hand, less mature wind power countries such as Finland, Austria and Romania have much lower averages”.
What could be the reason for this seeming contradiction? Although the final analysis has not been completed at the time of writing, Strøm suggests the less mature countries had probably done background work for the projects in advance and could have got the support of their governments.

“It is also possible that in countries where there’s high wind turbines deployment, there are more project applications, which then create bottlenecks”, muses Benjamin Pfluger from the Fraunhofer Institute, which designed the survey used in the project.

Emilien Simonot from Spain’s Asociación Empresarial Eólica (AEE) is analysing the results on the grid barriers, and suggests that “Maybe there is too much demand in Spain for the same grid connection point, which slows things down”.

All those involved in the project stress that these are for now only possible reasons for the fi ndings, which are themselves a sample of all the wind farms in Europe.

The project itself, known as ‘Wind Barriers’, was based around a two-part questionnaire that was sent to developers around Europe, and could only be applied to projects that came online in 2007 and 2008. Each of the two parts – administrative barriers and grid barriers – contained several subheadings, or “indicators” that the project partners used to measure different aspects of the barriers.

Wendelin Macht from Fraunhofer was involved in computing the data. “The shared administrative and grid indicators were the lead times, the number of authorities or operators to deal with, the percentage of costs spent on the administrative or grid process and the perceived transparency of the process. For the administrative indicators we also added the perceived attitude of the authorities.”

Alongside this was a more open question on what developers perceived the worst potential bottlenecks to be, in order to gather some qualitative data.

“In the end we managed to gather results from around 200 wind farm projects from the 22 different EU countries that installed wind capacity in 2008 – so everywhere except Malta, Luxembourg,Latvia, Slovenia and Cyprus”, says Iuga. “For 12 of those 22, we have six projects or more, and our results come from projects worth over half of the total MW installed in 2008, which means they should be pretty representative”.

The researchers found that sometimes the results turned common assumptions on their head. One example concerns renewable energy support systems.

“Often people think that quota systems lead to complex administrative procedures and this is what could make them less effective than feed-in tariffs”, explains Pfluger. “But Wind Barriers has found that in countries with quota systems – such as the UK and Italy – the administrative procedures were perceived as more straightforward than the average.”

On the grids side, the complexity of the application procedures varies substantially from country to country.

“In Denmark, developers contact under five entities to get their grid connection, as the operators of the grid carry out part of the application process themselves”, says Simonot. “But in Portugal, developers make all the applications, and they have to contact over 150 bodies”. This appears to have an effect on the time it takes to obtain the access, with Denmark the quickest – two months on average, and Portugal one of the slowest, at nearly four years.

He suggests several reasons for these differences in timing, including the length of the grid connection line, the level of public support, and the number of different properties the line would have to pass through, and above all the available grid capacity.

“In countries like Poland and the Czech Republic, we see that insufficient grid capacity has actually prevented projects from going ahead”.

The main bottlenecks were perceived by developers to be passing the Environmental Impact Assessment, spatial issues – that is, getting the land necessary – and problems with public opposition, which could also lead to law suits.

The results of the survey will be analysed and explained in further detail in an upcoming Wind Barriers report. They will be accompanied by recommendations on overcoming the different barriers at EU and national level.

The report should be launched in June so that the recommendations can be used in the National Renewable Energy Action Plans, to be handed in by 30 June 2010. Strøm already has ideas of what might be included in the recommendations.

He suggests that planning authorities should carry out long-term spatial planning that includes specifi ed areas for wind farms. Similarly, having a one-stop shop rather than having to consult lots of different entities would streamline the process.

“There also needs to be public access to environmental studies covering wind turbines and their surroundings as well as shared experiences across the member states on good practice for the decision-making process, which could then lead to an optimised decision-making process being designed”, he adds.

The research results are of course merely a sample, and Benjamin Pfluger sounds a note of caution when he stresses that other factors that potentially influence wind farm project lead times, such as capital availability, could also have been investigated, but were not part of the scope of the project. However, he and all the project partners are strongly enthusiastic about the quality of the results and how useful their fi ndings will be.

“It is the most interesting project I’ve ever been involved in”, concludes Pfluger. “The work we are doing is really relevant, as administrative and grid barriers can be a major problem in some countries”.

It is clear that for the EU countries working towards meeting or surpassing their 2020 renewables targets, the more familiar they can be with obstacles that could delay the deployment of wind energy, the better.


The aim of the Wind Barriers project is to gather up-to-date and comprehensive information on the administrative and grid access barriers that obstruct the development of wind energy in Europe. The project will measure how long the administrative part of onshore and secondary offshore wind power projects take in different countries, as well as the costs and difficulty involved, and the overall success rate. It will run until November 2010.

The first results of the project are being presented in more detail at EWEC 2010 at a side event where Polish representaties and consortium partners will present  results from the first studies conducted by Fraunhofer ISI, the Danish Wind Industry Association (DWIA) and the Asociación Empresarial Eólica (AEE).

By Sarah Azau,