How will wind turbines boost the economy and pro-environmental actions?
Having returned from the "Electric City" conference, organized by Wind Europe and held on 23-25 November this year in Copenhagen's Bella Center - WindTAK team interviewed Maciej Karczewski, Ph.D. on challenges and perspectives for the development of wind energy with particular emphasis on offshore sector. It is worth mentioning that the event gathered 400 exhibitors and over 7000 participants.
WindTAK (WT): What drives the industry at the moment?
Maciej Karczewski (MK): All official and behind-the-scenes discussions during the Copenhagen conference indicate that currently the key challenge is to secure (in terms of infrastructure, logistics and technology) over 450 GW of installed capacity in the form of clean, low/no-emission wind energy by 2030! This is an increase of min. 30 GW per year assuming continued operation of all turbines already in the mix.
This represents a threefold increase over the 179 GW installed today. By 2050, the EU wants a 20-fold increase in offshore wind capacity, while expecting a growing number of new onshore wind turbines at the same time.
This is a task that can only be met by a highly dynamized, large-scale wind energy segment. For the sector, this is likely to be one of the most costly, demanding (including environmentally) operations since the rebuilding of the infrastructure of European cities, coasts and ports from war damage.
(WT): A new Green Marshall Plan?
(MK): The comparison is quite legitimate as the plans for this pan-European project include not only the simple replacement and/or construction of new offshore infrastructure, but also the one on-shore. These are all non-trivial issues, especially in the context of expected increases in raw material prices, rare earths, circular economy provisions and the Green Deal. Repowering, retrofitting, reuse etc. - in other words, using and optimizing what we already have at our disposal, means that we need to make rapid changes to the processes and enable lifetime extension technologies for already operating onshore wind turbines. When building turbines in the 2000s, no one thought they would be needed beyond their 20-year mark while stakeholders would face these kinds of challenges.
(WT): Does this mean a step backward or "a technological conservation"?
(MK): Not necessarily, it does not necessarily mean that we will be stuck for years in an engineering backwater which we will only patch up on and on. There are projects of international consortiums underway, e.g. floating wind turbines (Germany), multirotors (Scandinavia), concept underwater turbines working on the same principle as their "windy sisters" (Great Britain) - with the difference that they produce even more energy from water currents). This is happening in almost all seas surrounding Europe with a few exceptions in the Mediterraneanregion.
(WT): How will these two seemingly opposing trends play out in practice?
(MK): It looks like we need to review the repowering, lifetime extension technologies and, overall, the projected lifespan of the entire wind turbine infrastructure. Nowadays turbines must act like professional soldiers who, in the face of dynamic changes on the "battlefield", extend their contracts and replenish their stocks, equipment, frontline logistics and reserves. To put it briefly: we will need these wind turbines much longer than their certified standard life of 20 years. Today, it is clear that without these veterans, without procedures to extend the operational life of turbines (the flagship postulate of Circular Economy, CE ), without their digitalization (Industry 4.0, 5G, IoT), in Europe it will not be possible to reach the exorbitant, but necessary, almost 500 GW from wind by 2030. This is, of course, the place for ever-vigilant and flexible CleanTech startups, but also for materials scientists, environmentalists, oceanographers, logistics experts, electronics engineers, programmers, AI and Big Data analysts - in short, for anyone who can accurately read the potential of this peculiar new goldrush.
(WT): A golden wind?
(MK): Only on our domestic market the economic forecasters and industry analysts point to figures that fire up the imagination: 4 to 5 billion euros per year is the projected growth of Polish GDP with the successive construction of the offshore wind power plants of 8 gigawatts. Between 70k and 130k new "green" jobs could be created. The added value generated by Polish enterprises in connection with the execution and handling of investments in offshore wind farms and their subsequent operation is estimated at 68 billion PLN.
(WT): And yet it's time and climate changes that seem to be working against us.
(MK): Yes, at the Wind Europe conference opening session Mr. Rasmus Errboe, senior vice president, Ørsted Offshore, said that if we keep doing what we're doing, at this rate - the desired "zero net emissions" will not be achieved... until 2104 - what does the planet say about that? The climate? Will it wait? - I doubt it!
(WT): So what to do?
(MK): Get to work! - or, to put it in less colloquial terms: at all costs seek possible forms of cooperation, public and private investors, encourage the formation of international consortia, finance in an adequate, simple and transparent manner their most daring and promising projects for the benefit of the environment in the field of clean, accessible and practically unlimited energy including ways of storing it while stabilising supplies. However, above all (!), the permitting process must be significantly simplified across all EU countries. Finally, I must also add what I heard repeatedly during the conference - and which generally seems to confirm the choices WindTAK team made: The digitization of wind infrastructure will contribute to lower wind farm operating costs, improved efficiency, increased revenues and environmental benefits for all energy consumers in this value chain. While the potential benefits of digitization are clear, quantifying them and implementing innovative solutions is not possible right away. To grasp the full picture, the industry must develop reliable, universal metrics and knowledge-sharing platforms. If the industry wants to realize the full potential that digitalization brings, technologies must be validated and become applicable at a reduced cost. However, this can only be achieved with the support of well-established data sharing practices within organizations, market regulators, supply chains and in collaboration with all stakeholders. It is not important to instill confidence in wind farm operators in such digital innovations what will lead to a massive rollout of sensors and IoT devices ultimately further reducing their prices.
(WT): What were the more important voices in the Copenhagen discussion?
(MK): There are many inspiring voices and opinions that I would like to cite at the end, but I think from the point of view of my "research and implementation background" the reflections of Mr. Jamie Stapleton, Global Digital Portfolio Leader at Hitachi Energy, were very interesting. He said: "Digitalization is a key driver of accelerating energy market dynamics, but it cannot be driven by a single company. Given the increasing complexity of wind farm operations, it is very difficult to understand and compare the benefits of different digital hubs and platforms. It is important to provide expertise and leverage substantive input from various stakeholders across the wind industry ecosystem.” Privately, I also have immense satisfaction that WindTAK has become part of this ecosytem - already as an official member of WindEurope.
(WT): ... and regarding the more global dimension of the event?
(MK): One of the men who changed our world forever, Louis Pasteur, once said " Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world". Today, it is our industry (RES) that, to a large extent, has the chance to decide the fate of the planet and its climate. It is important that in this spirit it crosses (especially in the context of accessibility, dissemination of standards, databases, fair and effective cooperation of R&D institutions and the academia) - all cultural, business and political borders. This was pointed out by a product strategy manager at a major market player during a lively discussion of the "Digitalization" working group. He emphasized that digitalization will certainly lower costs for all market players and thus also the price of wind energy consequently lowering the price of energy in general.Having returned from Copenhagen I am convinced that eradication of energy poverty, internationalization and marketisation of knowledge and technologies, but… first and foremost, combating the climate change are all possible and necessary beyond global differences. Any obstacles can be gradually overcome..
There is talk of "unprecedented growth" - an extraordinary scale of expansion, towards a green energy sector and related technologies that will be the foundation for all major processes: transport, district heating, manufacturing and industry overall - that will likely bring an end to the era of fossil fuel dominance.