Print

Op-ed articles

Wind Power Energy

Jean-Louis Bal
Jean-Louis BalChairman of the French renewable energy association SER

"Wind power capacity can also notably be expanded thanks to offshore wind farms"

Wind Power, Driving the Rise in Renewable Energies

Generated from strong breezes, wind powerIn physics, power is the amount of energy supplied by a system per unit time. In simpler terms, power can be viewed as energy output... is an essential form of renewable energyEnergy sources that are naturally replenished so quickly that they can be considered inexhaustible on a human time scale..., along with solar, hydro, marine and geothermalDescribes the technology used to tap subsurface heat to produce energy... power and biomassIn the energy sector, biomass is defined as all organic matter of plant or animal origin.... In this article, Jean-Louis Bal, Chairman of the French Renewable Energy Syndicate (SER), analyzes the development of wind power in France and around the world.

Wind power should be looked at within the context of the global boom in renewable energies. The International Energy Agency (international energy agency (iea)An independent, intergovernmental organization founded within the framework of the OECD...) recently revised its forecasts for the 2021 electricityForm of energy resulting from the movement of charged particles (electrons) through a conductor... mix, increasing the share of renewables to 28%. This compares with 23% in 2015, which demonstrates extremely strong growth. The instability of fossil-fuelFuel is any solid, liquid or gaseous substance or material that can be combined with an oxidant... markets and the need to limit greenhouse gas (ghg) Gas with physical properties that cause the Earth's atmosphere to warm up. There are a number of naturally occurring greenhouse gases... (GHG) emissions are creating an environment in which renewable energies will become the top priority in national energy mixes. Wind power has a rightful place among them.

Consider the following figures. In 2015, growth in renewables was primarily driven by onshoreRefers to land-based oil exploration and production operations, as in "onshore seismic data acquisition" or "onshore drilling". wind farms (63 gigawatts installed during the year) and photovoltaic solar power plants (49 gigawatts). As of the end of 2015, global installed wind capacity stood at 417 gigawatts, of which 405 gigawatts onshore and 12 gigawatts offshoreRefers to sea-based oil exploration and production operations, as in "offshore license" or "offshore drilling".. Europe is still the world leader in the field (136 gigawatts), followed closely by China (128 gigawatts), with North America coming in third (88 gigawatts). Wind power is expanding rapidly in China, the United States and India, as well as in several smaller countries, including Egypt, Morocco, Iran and South Africa. Growth in Europe, however, has slowed due to the relative saturation of the German wind market, the continent's largest.

France had installed wind capacity of 11 gigawatts in June 2016. The pace of growth has been uneven over time, reaching a record 1,246 new megawatts in 2009, before falling year after year to 621 megawatts in 2013, and then rising back to a fairly stable 1,100 megawatts per year since then.

The decline in growth can be attributed to an accumulation of regulatory constraints on facilities posing a risk to the environment (ICPEs) and the numerous appeals by anti-wind turbine associations, which systematically challenge all new permits. The current revival was made possible by the administrative simplification measures adopted since 2012.

Development Factors

Generally speaking, several factors impact the development of wind power, including:

  • The wind power potential or, in other words, the strength and regularity of the wind.
  • The capital outlay which, in addition to the price of manufacturing, installing and connecting the turbines, depends on the length of the administrative procedures and studies, as well as on the finance costs. In France, putting together a project is a costly affair because of the significant amount of red tape. However, it is extremely cheap in emerging countries such as Morocco or Egypt, where there are plenty of wide open land available.
  • Technological advances, which have improved capacity factors while reducing operating expenses.

Overall, the price of wind power per kilowatt-hour has fallen. While the decline has clearly not been as spectacular as in the photovoltaic solar industry, costs in Europe have dropped to between $65 and $85 per megawatt-hour, compared with an average of more than $100 in 2010, according to the IEA. Certain calls for tenders have recently been awarded at even lower prices in countries with enough space for huge wind farms, such as Egypt ($40) and Morocco (around $30).

Offshore Prospects

Wind power capacity can also notably be expanded thanks to offshore wind farms, even if they come at a high price tag: €200 per megawatt-hour in France, but already as low as €87 including grid connection in the Netherlands, which is not far from onshore costs. The significant difference between the French and the Dutch price can be explained by recent technological advances, greater wind power potential and above all a simplified regulatory framework for calls for tenders. In the Netherlands, the preliminary wind, bathymetric and geotechnical surveys are carried out by the government before the call for tenders, and the administrative authorizations are granted at the same time as the tender.

Europe has a virtual monopoly on offshore wind farms, a situation that can be explained by the scarcity of available land. The United States, on the other hand, has barely explored the sector due to its vast deserted plains. According to the IEA, Europe has an installed capacityThe power generation capacity of a particular plant. It is usually expressed in megawatts (or sometimes even gigawatts)... of 11 gigawatts versus 1 gigawatt in China. The United Kingdom currently leads the pack with 5.1 gigawatts, ahead of Germany with 3.3 gigawatts. Denmark arrives in third place with 1.3 gigawatts, a considerable effort given the size of the country.

While France does not yet have any offshore wind turbines, two calls for tenders for a total of six wind farms (3,000 megawatts) have been launched with an initial commitment to build three farms – a decision that has unsurprisingly been challenged in court. It is unlikely that work will begin before 2019 or 2020.

 

 

Jean-Louis Bal is an electrical engineer and a graduate of École Polytechnique de Louvain in Belgium. After working in private-sector solar power companies for 17 years, Jean-Louis Bal joined the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME) in 1992, where his responsibilities included promoting renewable energies and energy efficiencyIn economic terms, energy efficiency refers to the efforts made to reduce the energy consumption of a system.... He was also one of the main rapporteurs of France's Grenelle Environment Forum. Jean-Louis Bal was elected Chairman of the Renewable Energy Syndicate (SER) in 2011 and was re-elected in 2013. With some 350 member companies, the SER publishes a quarterly report on renewable electricity in collaboration with French transmission system operator RTE, distribution system operator Enedis and electric company industry association ADEeF.

 

Pierre Warlop
Pierre WarlopSupply Chain Manager at WPD Offshore France

"Wind power began a fresh phase in its development when new and constantly improving technology made it possible to install wind turbines offshore near the coast. "

Wind Turbines: From Onshore to Offshore, Bottom-Mounted to Floating

Technology plays a major role in spreading wind powerIn physics, power is the amount of energy supplied by a system per unit time. In simpler terms, power can be viewed as energy output... around the world. With an installed capacityThe power generation capacity of a particular plant. It is usually expressed in megawatts (or sometimes even gigawatts)... of 432 gigawatts in 2015, up 17% year-on-year, wind power is mainly supplied by onshoreRefers to land-based oil exploration and production operations, as in "onshore seismic data acquisition" or "onshore drilling". wind turbines, but offshoreRefers to sea-based oil exploration and production operations, as in "offshore license" or "offshore drilling". farms (12 gigawatts) are experiencing rapid growth. In this article, Pierre Warlop, Supply Chain Manager at WPD Offshore and Vice-Chairman of the Wind Power Industry division of the French Renewable EnergyEnergy sources that are naturally replenished so quickly that they can be considered inexhaustible on a human time scale... Syndicate (SER), reviews technical developments in the field.

The first wind turbines to be installed onshore at the very start of the 2000s had a capacity of around 750 kilowatts each. Today, the average capacity of new wind turbines installed around the world is more than 2 megawatts, or 2,000 kilowatts. Some models, however, exceed 4 megawatts. And a 5-megawatt prototype with a rotor diameter of 132 meters has just been installed on the Canary Islands and will soon begin commercial operations.

Size matters when it comes to wind turbines: larger rotors can operate within wider ranges of wind speeds and generate greater amounts of power. However, optimal performance also depends on a number of constraints, relating either to the geographic location (the site's wind power potential and what is known as the "roughness" caused by uneven terrain and obstacles such as forests or buildings) or to environmental and urban planning regulations (landscaping, noise, radar interference, etc.). This requires developers to strike a balance between technology and smooth integration into the environment. 

Initially, wind farms were mainly built in extremely windy areas, usually on or near the coast. But thanks to larger rotor sizes and improved energy conversion systems, wind turbines can now operate in areas with more regular winds blowing at more moderate speeds of around 6.5 meters per second. This has led to the development of a full range of "low wind" turbines designed to generate electricityForm of energy resulting from the movement of charged particles (electrons) through a conductor... at a competitive cost from weaker breezes. Today, the most common onshore wind turbines in Europe consist of a tower of between 80 and 100 meters and almost always three blades, with a rotor diameter of around 100 meters. 

Wind Power Possibilities Offshore

Wind power began a fresh phase in its development when new technology made it possible to install wind turbines offshore, generally more than 10 kilometers off the coast. The technique really started taking off in 2010, primarily in Europe, more than ten years after the first model was installed.

The main change was to wind turbines' capacity. The isolation enjoyed offshore makes it possible to disregard certain design constraints, notably concerning rotor size, and to increase individual turbine capacity far beyond that of onshore versions. Offshore wind turbines are equipped with rotors of up to 180 meters in diameter and currently have installed capacities in excess of 8 megawatts, with models of more than 10 megawatts expected to be announced soon. As a result, the output, or more specifically the "capacity factor" (the ratioIn mathematics, the relationship between two numbers (the ratio of x to y is equal to x/y). Often expressed as a percentage... of actual output to optimal output at full capacity) is today assessed at an average of 27% for an onshore wind turbine compared with 45% for an offshore version. Robust, reliable technology is needed to offset the harsh conditions out at sea and the difficulties involved in performing maintenance. 

Today, the cost of offshore wind power is declining sharply. In some cases, it can be as low as €50 per megawatt-hour, which is close to the onshore record of €30 per megawatt‑hour set by Morocco. (By way of comparison, photovoltaic solar power has been priced at €21.50 per megawatt-hour in Abu Dhabi.) Noting the benefits, several countries have begun taking an interest in the technology. The United States, for example, inaugurated its first offshore wind farm in 2016 and has granted 11 offshore permits, with a long-term capacity target of 6 gigawatts. China remains fairly secretive about its offshore wind farms (installed capacity of around 2 gigawatts), but is expected to dominate the market by the end of the decade. And Europe is developing its installed capacity at an estimated rate of between 1.5 and 2 gigawatts a year, representing an investment of €30 billion by 2020.

Another technology currently maturing is the "floating" wind turbine, which could soon offer a solution for generating offshore wind power in deep waters of more than 50 meters. This would enable certain regions to harness the resource to its full potential, such as Japan, where the sea floor drops sharply to depths of nearly 120 meters. No fewer than 35 different technologies are currently being tested in France and abroad, including floating-platform and cylindrical designs. As things stand, it is estimated that between 200 and 300 megawatts of capacity could be installed by 2020, mainly in the form of prototypes and pilot projects. But if these technologies prove to be viable, it would double offshore wind potential, which is estimated at 140 gigawatts in Europe alone. 

 

 

Pierre Warlop serves as Supply Chain Manager at WPD Offshore France, a global company that has been active in offshore wind farms since 2000 and installed more than 2,000 wind turbines worldwide (more than 3,800 megawatts). In addition to sitting on several French and European expert committees, Pierre Warlop is also a Vice-Chairman of France's Renewable Energies Syndicate (SER).

 

Was this op-ed interesting?

4 0