The EU in the doldrums
The European Union market is wavering between the flagging onshore wind farm market and the logistics, technology and industrial preparations for the huge, offshore wind energy market with its rich pickings. EurObserv’ER puts the year’s installed capacity at about 9 367.7 MW.
Total European Union wind energy capacity should settle at 94.1 GW, which equates to 187.2 kW of capacity per 1000 inhabitants. Taking the number of inhabitants as the yardstick, the top three ranked wind energy producer countries are Denmark (706.2 kW per 1000 inhab.), Spain (469.6 kW per 1000 inhab.) and Portugal (403.4 kW per 1000 inhab.).
There are several underlying factors responsible for the further decline of the European Union wind turbines market. The recession has delayed the granting of a number of loans and led to wind farm project commissioning postponements.
However the main reason is that heavy intervention is being used to control the development of most of the European Union’s major wind farm markets. In these times of crisis, many governments have reduced domestic market growth by slowing down authorisation procedures and applying more binding administrative procedures (e.g.: Spain’s pre-allocation scheme, the ICPE procedure in France, etc.).
The other investment-curbing mechanism used has adjourned legislation on the renewal of incentive systems that are about to expire.
Wind energy’s weaker performance levels can be put into perspective if we consider its place in new electricity-generating capacity investments. EWEA (European Wind Energy Association), states that 45 GW of generating capacity was added across the European Union including 21 000 MWc of photovoltaic solar energy, 9 718 MW of gas and 2 200 MW of coal.
At 9 333.5 MW, wind energy is practically on a par with gas, but trailing far behind photovoltaic solar power. The offshore wind farm market is getting ready for the big rush. EurObserv’ER found that offshore wind energy fared worse in 2011 than in 2010 with 788.1 MW installed as against 1 139.9 MW installed in 2010.
By the end of 2011 European Union offshore wind energy capacity had risen to 3 820.1 MW. This additional capacity includes the Walney I (186.3 MW) Wind Farm operating off the British coast and the first turbines of British wind farms Walney II, Ormonde and Sheringham Shoal to go online and the latest German offshore farm wind turbines to go online at Bard 1 and Baltic 1.
The new 3.6-MW test wind turbine on the Danish Avedore site and the Windfloat (2 MW) floating support structure prototype being tested off Portugal complete the round-up.
The decline recorded in 2011 however not drive the offshore wind power sector’s future development off course. The EWEA has knowledge of nine wind farm projects under construction in 2011 that will add 2 375 MW of capacity. They will be closely followed by the construction of 9 other wind farms whose preparations were under way in 2011 (7 off the German and 2 off the UK coasts), to provide 2 910 MW of additional capacity.
These 18 wind farm projects should be completed in under three years and raise the European Union’s offshore capacity to more than 9 GW. The sector’s growth is set to accelerate from then on. The EWEA “Wind in our Sails” report claims that 40 GW of offshore wind turbines capacity should be installed by 2020, which will cover 4% of the European Union’s electricity demand thereby avoiding the emission of 87 million tonnes of C02 into the atmosphere (equivalent to the exhaust emissions of 44 million vehicles).
The report forecasts that the European wind power sector could employ 462 000 people, including 169 500 in the offshore segment by the year 2020. In 2030, the number of jobs in the offshore sector could be as high as 300 000 out of a total of 480 000. By that time the proposed projects would provide 141 GW of capacity in Europe extended to include Norway.
Intense groundwork and excellent coordination with the other industrial sectors involved in developing the offshore wind energy market are crucial if the build-up of capacity is to be ensured, for the connection pace will depend directly on the availability of high-voltage submarine power cables. The sector’s development will also call for the construction of specialist vessels (27 vessels needed in 2020 according to the EWEA), the provision of port infrastructures and the production of appropriate substructures (foundations) for the different types of sea bed.
Scores of offshore support companies and industrial sites are setting up along the German coasts from Emden in the North Sea, to Rügen in the Baltic, to produce giant blades, foundations and port facilities. The same flurry of activity is visible around the UK’s coasts.
More than 5% of the electricity used in the European Union
After the disappointments of 2010, wind power production expectations were met in 2011. According to EurObserv’ER, they should exceed 172 TWh, which equates to a 15.5% yearon-year increase (149.1 TWh). If we assume that half the capacity installed in 2011 was generating electricity that equates to a mean load factor of 22% across the entire fleet and with production at this level, more than 5% of the European Union’s electricity consumption is now covered (4.5% in 2010).