Siemens Gamesa turmoil, major offshore wind project pullouts and a Greta Thunberg protest against wind turbines provided some of this year’s best-read Recharge articles, along with battery breakthroughs and further promises of near-limitless power from nuclear fusion.
It has to say the least been a bruising year for the wind industry, especially when it comes to Western offshore developments, with supply chain issues and spiralling inflation wreaking havoc in projects.
European turbine makers also had a year to forget, plagued by profitability and reliability issues and looking over their shoulders at cheaper and ever more powerful Chinese models on offer.
But it was Spanish-German turbine maker Siemens Gamesa that stole the best-read headlines when it came to things going spectacularly wrong in 2023 – not even including its payout to an engineer whose arm was 'guillotined' by one of its turbines.
Siemens Gamesa shocked the wind industry – and even its own CEO Jochen Eickholt – when the result of a technical review of turbines was so bad that its parent company Siemens Energy was forced to scrap its 2023 forecast.
“The result of the current review will be much worse than even I would have thought possible,” Eickholt said in June.
“I’ve said on several occasions that at Siemens Gamesa there’s nothing I have not witnessed elsewhere. I would not repeat that today,” he said, adding that the turbine maker had contrived to produce “new forms of failures.”
A few months later, Eickholt was back with the admission that Siemens Gamesa had sold turbines that “had not been sufficiently tested.”
As Eickholt put it: “Here, we see, if you like, that we’re more or less the victim of our own ambitions.”
Turbine makers in Europe have also faced wider problems, not least the spectre of Chinese competition, which put paid to the continent’s solar sector in the 2010s.
Jürgen Zeschky, CEO of fellow German turbine maker Enercon, was one of many to ring the alarm bell that cheap Chinese turbines are threatening to blow away the best that Europe has to offer.
After a year of handwringing – interspersed with complaints that Chinese and American turbines are being unfairly subsidised – the EU wind industry has rallied with a European Wind Charter to help save its embattled sector.
The rated power “arms race” between turbine makers has also been a source of increasing contention and debate in the industry this year.
Anders Nielsen, chief technology officer at Vestas, told Recharge in May that it was time for a pause on size – with the Danish turbine maker happy to consolidate around its 15MW offshore flagship, which was certified this month.
That approach will be welcomed by many in the supply chain and wider industry, but the resolve of manufacturers in favour of a pause will undoubtedly be tested by those who aren’t – notably Chinese turbine makers who are now pushing 20MW and beyond.
Vattenfall sent shockwaves around the sector this year when it halted its 1.4GW Norfolk Boreas project citing a “perfect storm” of cost increases engulfing the industry.
Ultimately, Vattenfall sold its entire 4.2GW East Anglia portfolio to Germany’s RWE in a deal that values the projects at $1.2bn and is one of the biggest in offshore wind history.
But as one analyst warned Recharge in its piece on the project pullout, “if Vattenfall are struggling to make the sums work then others are likely to be in a similar position.”
So it proved just a few months later, when Danish giant Orsted scrapped two of America's largest wind farm projects – and took a $4bn hit in the process.
Continuing supply chain turmoil, high interest rates and permitting delays were cited as the reasons for the cancellation of the 1.1GW Ocean Wind 1 and 1.15GW Ocean Wind 2 projects planned off the New Jersey coast.
Climate activist Greta Thunberg flying in to demand the partial demolition of one of Europe’s largest onshore wind projects provided one of the year's most eye-catching moments.
Thunberg found time to visit Oslo twice in 2023 to join protests against Statkraft’s 1GW Fosen Vind project – undeterred by being detained the first time.
The project was earlier found to be based on invalid permits that violated the human rights of the indigenous Sami community, which complained that two farms that form part of it are scaring away the reindeer they herd.
Statkraft and its minority partners in one of the offending wind farms recently agreed to pay millions to the reindeer herders in compensation, although a dispute over another site rumbles on.
Away from the wind sector, there were a series of exciting headlines in the nuclear fusion industry this year.
The most eye-catching for our readers was the news that fusion tech that uses no radioactive materials and is calculated to be capable of “powering the planet for more than 100,000 years” had been successfully piloted.
US scientists have meanwhile achieved the landmark feat of achieving net energy gain from a nuclear fusion reaction, while there is increased bullishness about the prospect of getting commercial-scale fusion online by the end of the decade.
In the energy storage industry, lithium-ion batteries may reign supreme, but there remains huge interest in innovative alternatives that believe they should have a place in the green energy ecosystem.
Peak Energy, a US start-up featuring two Tesla veterans, attracted attention with its claim that its sodium-ion batteries could halve the cost of energy storage and are safer than their lithium-ion counterparts.
A sodium-based battery would also calm concerns that the lithium-ion supply chain has been cornered by China, a major concern in Europe particularly after its recent traumatic experience of going cold turkey on Russian gas.
Australian researchers meanwhile claimed to have made a breakthrough in developing revolutionary lithium-sulphur batteries that can hold up to five times the energy of lithium-ion.
The team at Monash University in Melbourne said their “nanoporous polymer-coated lithium foil anode” has solved a long-standing issue with lithium-sulphur batteries that was causing them to die too soon.
They also claim their batteries would be half the price of lithium-ion, whose sellers will be looking over their shoulders if this turbo-charged formula ever makes it to market.