Judged by many industrialists less than a decade ago to be an experimental power technology that would never make it into the global energy mainstream, offshore wind has created a steady updraft for itself with bigger and bigger turbines and ever-lower levellised cost of energy (LCOE) to prove otherwise, with the Global Wind Energy Council last week upping its 2030 forecast to 234GW as wind-at-sea emerges as a “key pillar” to post-Covid-19 economic recovery.
Potential isn’t power production, however, and there remain major challenges facing many highly prospective markets, not least the US, where, as Recharge reported, new research concluded the country was in danger of squandering an opportunity to build a new sector that would deliver hundreds of billions of dollars in investment and 80,000 jobs by 2035 if it didn’t speed up the federal leasing process.
In the highly-touted Japanese market, meanwhile, recent calculus suggests the sector could grow faster than first thought to 7GW by 2029, but only once LCOE is further reduced for floating wind projects and the government’s notoriously long lead-time environmental impact assessments are streamlined. And in Greece, many in the industry are scratching their heads as to why a market with “lots of sea, few waves and good wind” still has no turbines in the water.
Onshore, wind OEMs have been showing themselves adaptive to the ongoing pressure to sharpen cost competitiveness – highlighted in recent quarterly earnings reports from several blotted by a lot red ink.
Nordex announced it had done a deal with German utility RWE to sell a 2.7GW development pipeline for some €400m ($470m), in a transaction that could help it return to profitability – with further help coming from a government-backed loan to shield the OEM from Covid-caused fallout – and, in an exclusive interview with Recharge, Vestas highlighted it was moving to “capitalise on its first mover advantage” as the operations and maintenance side of its business crossed the milestone of 100GW of machines under service,
GE Renewable Energy, meanwhile, revealed it was seeking to block Siemens Gamesa turbines from being sold in the US, accusing the German-Spanish OEM breaching patent on technology that protect turbines from dramatic fluctuations in power – a move that was deemed by one industry observer as a wrong-headed move by GE to “level the competitive playing field for itself through application of import duties and IP lawsuits”.
Whatever the near-term fortunes of wind OEMs, there is no question of the overall trajectory of the onshore market, with countries including Greece – where the winners of a major 500MW auction were announced, Poland – whose government is planning to “liberalise” a damaging distance rule from 2016 that has brought new wind power developments on land to a near-standstill in what was the largest Eastern European sector play, and Ireland – which handed out almost 500MW of onshore wind as part of its first national renewables auction – all pointing to the indomitable expansion of a sector that now has over 600GW turning around the planet.