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Renewables: Overview

Get ready for the revolution

Investment and employment opportunities in offshore wind will be larger than any other sector…

This year’s European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) offshore wind conference in Stockholm started with a bang. The big news was the call for investment in wind energy, and a change of tack by European politicians to
upgrade their policies.

Offshore wind turbines

Offshore wind turbines

A key conference topic was the target of a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020. This is a great target, but it has taken everyone by surprise as it dawns that it will take an enormous amount of investment and change in future infrastructure to be met.

At the conference, pledges were made by each of the European presidents and prime ministers attending to not only meet the target, but to try to exceed it.

More than 140 company representatives in 38 countries have already signed up to the European Offshore Wind Declaration. This calls on both governments and the EU to support a new multi-billion pound offshore wind industry, with the number of companies signing up rising all the time.

The EWEA estimates that offshore wind energy alone could power Europe seven times over. Just those projects in planning could supply 10% of existing demand.

Around £92bn is expected to be invested in wind energy around the European Union in the next 10 years. This is expected to create more than 2.8M jobs

The declaration commits businesses to maintaining a sufficient supply of turbines, components, foundations, installation and cable-laying vessels. The EU and member states are asked to resolve planning and grid system bottlenecks that hold projects up.

EWEA chief executive Christian Kjaer said: “Business is backing this declaration because it understands the huge potential of the sector.

“If national and EU decision makers take swift action, offshore wind will become a new multi-billion euro industry,
delivering thousands of green collar jobs and a new renewable energy economy.”

Just this month, prime minister Gordon Brown said green industries, such as offshore wind, could create 250,000 jobs in the UK alone.

The EU is already committed to wind energy, with a €4bn (£3.7bn) fund for renewables. Of that, £518M is for offshore wind, but more importantly £835M has been pledged for the development of the Supergrid.

The idea is simple: generate renewable power wherever it is possible to do so, then pump this around Europe via a super-efficient high voltage direct current (HVDC) grid to any number of countries, reducing or removing their need to burn fossil fuels (NCE 10 September).

Overall, around £92bn is expected to be invested in wind energy around the EU over the next 10 years. This is expected to create more than 2.8M jobs. This highlights how member states have now realised the vital importance of continental interconnectors to the future of wind energy.

Sessions at the conference included design considerations for large-scale interconnectors and how redundancies could be optimised through early assessment of economic costs. Off the back of that, EWEA has launched an offshore grid plan for what the preferred grid connectors will be for 2020 and 2030. This is one area in which the UK could lead.

Construction challenges faced by engineers was another topic discussed at the conference. These include the logistics for dealing with the new generation mega-turbines - transport and construction in deeper waters - and how construction methods and techniques are now focusing on addressing environmental sensitivities.

Port facilities and infrastructure also need to be upgraded to cope with the increased size of turbine lay-down areas. Ports need stronger load-bearing of structures for the sheer size and weight of the new devices, and upgrading and dredging requirements for the deeper draft and size of bespoke jack-up barges.

Ports and their infrastructure need to be upgraded to cope with the increased size of turbine laydown areas. Ports need stronger load bearing structures

Lessons have been learnt from bridge design. A two year study sponsored by renewable energy generating giant Vattenfall and presented to the conference examined the application of concrete as a construction fabric for turbine foundations, and tested this over two different wave climate and substrate conditions.

A separate session looked at the new 10MW Britannia Turbine, a number of conceptual foundation designs, and the logistics of delivering multiple concrete foundations. We also saw test data from the United States which compared the stress performance of three different types of floating platforms.

Final day sessions focused on transportation and installation deficiencies and using the best choice of supply ports throughout Europe. Another session assessed the ability of internal electricity markets to allow the trading of offshore wind. A panel discussion on international cooperation concluded the three day conference, and the stage is now set for the next conference in Amsterdam in 2011.

The main message to come out of the event was clear. We are looking at a major and significant change to energy infrastructure throughout Europe over next 10 years. Investment and employment opportunities will be larger than
any other sector, but there are significant challenges ahead.

  • Bev Walker is Royal Haskoning’s renewables market manager for the UK and Europe.

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