WindEurope CEO takes stark message to Hamburg

Europe must get its act together or see its hard-won status as a global leader in renewables disappear for good – and watch its valuable wind industry suffer accordingly.

That is the stark warning from Giles Dickson, chief executive of WindEurope for exactly one year and a man with plenty on his mind as he gears up for the industry body's flagship Summit in Hamburg next week.

The WindEurope Summit will for the first time be co-located with WindEnergy Hamburg, the world's biggest wind industry expo, in a union that creates an impressive critical mass of European commercial clout, technological excellence and policy thought-leadership.

Dickson, however, warns that the continent's political leaders have no room for complacency as they contemplate the jobs, exports and other benefits that Europe's historic role as a pioneer in wind power and renewables-friendly policy has created.

A lack of policy clarity beyond 2020, a "dysfunctional electricity market that's not fit for purpose" and chronic overcapacity of polluting fossil plants are just some of the obstacles hindering the growth of renewables, Dickson said, with potentially serious consequences for the European wind industry's ability to compete on driving down the cost of energy – the key measure of success in a global market where Europe's wind majors have to date been highly competitive.

"If our domestic market in Europe becomes significantly smaller than the Chinese market, they will be able to make faster progress than us down the cost curve and our competitive position will erode. That worries us," he said.

"China is number one in capacity and new installations," said Dickson. "India is number one in ambition and targets. In terms of costs, the cheapest projects have come in Morocco and Latin America," he added, as well as noting the "five years of clarity" enjoyed by wind in the post-PTC US.

Europe's wind technology is "still the best in the world" he believes, but even here there is all to play for in the next generation of technologies. "Let's look at floating wind. The Japanese are at least as advanced as we are – we need to keep up the pace."

So what is to be done? Dickson wants European states to get their post-2020 renewables policies and targets on the table – only seven out of 28 EU members currently have them in place.

WindEurope would also like to see better management of the transition from feed-in tariffs, green certificates and the like to more competitive, market-based schemes.

While some processes have so far been shining successes – the Dutch offshore tender system, for example – Dickson identifies others that have "made a mess" of the exercise, including Spain and Poland in that category.

"The direction of travel makes economic sense, but it has to be got right," says Dickson. "You can't bring in an auction scheme that has no pre-qualification like the Spanish did. It's crazy," said the WindEurope CEO, pointing to the danger of unrealistic, underprepared bids for projects that never see the light of day.

On both those points, the industry is looking to the European Commission (EC) to deliver the goods via its Renewable Energy Directive, which WindEurope hopes will set out a "fair share" indication for every member state to help meet the bloc's overall RE target  – even if it lacks binding national goals – and guidance over how to get there.

The EC is also the body WindEurope wants to help sort out the problems in the European power market via its new market design proposals.

"The Commission's got to get it right in the next few months," said Dickson, who takes some heart from support in the European Parliament for the industry's call for a 30% renewable share target for 2030 – above the 27% currently on the table.

No wonder WindEurope, with the help of Europe's wind power big guns, is spending so much effort getting the message across to Brussels and the EU's member states.

And with speakers at the WindEurope Summit including EU vice president for energy union Maroš Šefčovic and German energy and economy minister Sigmar Gabriel, Hamburg next week will be a big chance to make the case again.

As well as launching its flagship report, WindEurope will call for specific measures to help the continent's wind sector. They include an EU-wide dispute resolution mechanism that can give investors confidence that their interests would be defended from the type of retroactive policy changes notoriously introduced by Spain, from which Dickson said the country's wind sector has still to recover – and which he warned could happen again in another major market.

WindEurope's priorities also include measures to facilitate the cross-border trading of wind power, the smart allocation of Europe's R&D resources – with storage and grid integration a heavy focus – and a clearer strategy on how to manage repowering.

"There's still plenty to play for," said Dickson.

Recharge will produce the official daily newspaper at WindEnergy Hamburg from 27-30 September and carry extensive coverage online