Two-thirds of Europe’s electricity could come from wind power

Speaking at an offshore wind energy conference in Brussels this week, the vice-president of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) predicted that up to two-thirds of Europe’s electricity needs could come from this technology by 2020.

“The resource is there, the technology is proven, the costs continue to drop – all that is needed is the political will to see it happen,” said Dr Eddie O’Connor, who is also CEO of Irish renewable energy company Eirtricity. He dubbed the development of major offshore wind energy parks as ‘the biggest energy revolution since the internal combustion engine’.

Over 500 developers, manufacturers, researchers, consultants, financiers and legal and policy experts met to discuss the latest technologies and research and exchange experiences with offshore wind energy as it moves from being used for small offshore projects to “utility sized” ones.

To date, just 86MW of offshore wind generation capacity is sited in the seas around northern Europe, with two turbines generating 3.8MW in use off Britain at the Blyth Offshore site (see related story). However, the conference predicted that Europe stands on the brink of a rapid expansion in the use of the technology. Projects in the pipeline will add a further 5000MW to the tally.

First in line is the 160MW Horns Rev site, off the Danish coast, which is due to come on stream in 2002, but the feasibility of projects and their ability to be up and generating quickly depends on a number of factors. Industry developers are looking at expertise from other offshore industries to improve the design of wind turbine foundations and develop best operation and maintenance strategies. The aim is to make offshore wind power competitive with other generating technologies, which is seen as possible once the industry gains economies of scale and moves up the learning curve.

The industry is also looking at the way of reducing the technology’s impact on other sea users and on the environment – public involvement is being encourage, and improved environmental impact assessments are being put in place. Turbines are also being designed with a view to end-of-life decommissioning.

Speakers at the conference stressed that policy makers are crucial to the technology’s future – they were urged to remove non-technical barriers to the full use of offshore wind’s potential. They were also asked to create a clear legal framework, seen as key to realising the benefits of offshore wind energy. The special topic conference was also set to incorporate the results of the EU’s concerted action on offshore wind energy in Europe.

“The industry is ready to take the plunge’. The policy framework will determine the temperature of the water,” said Filip Martens of C-Power, a Belgian consortium planning a 100MW wind farm off the coat of Belgium. “The technology is ready, investors are testing the water. What we need now is a clear legal framework.”

The European Wind Energy Association represents the interests of the wind energy community at an international level. Its main objective is to ensure that the public, media, decision makers and politicians are made aware of the reality of wind power, and understand the rapid progress being made in the industry.

Established in 1982, EWEA is a non-profit, non governmental association with a membership mainly consisting of national affiliated societies, and companies or organisations involved in wind related activities. EWEA members include most of the major wind turbine manufacturers and research centres, and the association is now the largest renewable energy association in the world.

EWEA also acts as a forum for the exchange of information and discussion on issues related to wind energy and organises workshops and conferences. It also publishes magazines and brochures and aims to provide a voice for wind energy in international debates on energy, the environment and development and to promote and develop the use of wind energy in general.

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