The vast Hamburg Exposition Center was packed with over 1,400 exhibitors, thousands of international visitors and conference attendees as the four-day Wind Energy Summit brought together some of the most influential minds and companies in the energy sector at the end of last month. L. Michael Buchsbaum describes wind’s huge potential.
In total, over 35,000 visitors from 100 countries, including state energy ministers, EU commissioners and corporate CEOs presented their latest technologies and strategies under the theme of “Breaking New Ground.”
The sheer size of the event vividly illustrated the maturation of the on- and offshore wind sector, its growing supply chains, and wind’s potential, especially when combined with solar and storage, to usher in a successful de-carbonization of the world’s energy systems. “If anyone had doubted the global demand for wind energy, the international character of WindEnergy Hamburg this week has delivered the final proof,” said Matthias Zelinger, Chairman of VDMA Power Systems.
Though only generating roughly 5% of global energy, wind is the fastest growing sector in the industry. Reflective of its international impact, the summit brought together 16 turbine manufacturers including Chinese and Indian producers. In addition to discussing the expanding role of wind, daily themes included advancing generation capacity, digitization, showcasing new technologies such as floating offshore wind, as well as financing and investment strategies.
As the Summit opened, the WindEurope trade group began disseminating their latest study detailing how more than 20GW of wind capacity in Europe could be installed annually between 2030 and 2050, covering almost 40% of the continent’s needs, while simultaneously becoming less expensive per kilowatt hour as turbines generate ever more power.
However, even as carbon generation globally is actually increasing, wind installations in Europe, including market-leader Germany, are falling. Indeed, according to the German HSH Nordbank, following last year’s record of almost 17GW of new additional on and offshore capacity, 2018 is on track for only another 13GW, with the same predicted for 2019. Due mostly to changes in Germany’s Energiewende strategies that now rely on auctions, the drop is also due to permitting rule delays for new French wind farms. Nevertheless, the bank predicts a sharp rebound towards 2020 as Spain, Sweden and Norway begin deploying new offshore farms. They also see US, Indian and African markets expanding.
On the technology side, producers like GE, Senvion and Vestas deemed the coming deployment of 9MW to 12+MW turbines as the “third generation” of wind energy, with the upper limit yet to be reached. Indeed, at one of the most well attended sessions treating ever-larger turbine ratings, GE subsidiary LM Wind Power’s senior director John Korsgaard stated that advancing from the under-development 12MW Haliade-X to 20MW or more single-unit turbine capacity in the near term is “perfectly feasible.” Predicting 250-meter rotors (they displayed a mock up of the 107 m Haliade-X rotor at the Summit) to soon be a reality, he stated he could see no technological reasons why these figures or higher couldn’t be achieved. “Cost models will determine how big turbines will become,” he said. But turning to the much anticipated Haliade-X being developed for the French offshore markets, he assured that “the design has been fixed and we are preparing for production. We will deliver the first blades next year.”
Throughout Europe, ever-larger offshore wind energy projects are moving forward rapidly. In 2019, the Borkum Riffgrund 2 wind farm, the largest in Germany, involving almost 60 turbines, will begin generating up to 450MW of power, able to supply almost half-a million homes. While MHI Vestas is completing this farm, it also is involved in two UK farms, the Triton Knoll and Moray East that will bring almost 2GW of off-shore power to market through the mid-2020s. Already deploying a 9MW offshore turbine, at Hamburg Vestas unveiled their newly upgraded 10MW version, one capable of being floated as well. According to the company, the new turbines are designed to run at full power in wind speeds of 10 meters per second, last for 25 years and be able to power almost 6,000 average European homes.
Larger turbines are ideally suited for the next new breakthrough: floating offshore wind development (Flow). Quite simply, wind blows stronger and more frequently further offshore, generally over deeper waters. Harnessing it with larger turbines will allow wind energy to begin approaching baseload generation. Using technology largely developed by the oil industry, floating offshore is seen as key to unlocking an even greater wind resource further offshore in deeper waters. Just a week before WindEnergy opened, France’s first offshore wind turbine, Floatgen, became fully operational. Developed as a pilot project, it follows Equinor’s 30MW Hywind farm off Scotland, and EDP Renewables’ led consortium’s WindPlus 25MW WindFloat off Portugal to act as advanced test-beds. The next wave of floating wind developments, planned for the next two years, will use third-generation 12+ MW turbines.