Strong east wind drives EU

EUROPE: Despite the global financial crisis, prospects for EU wind development look healthy, with new member states taking the baton from market leaders, as Christian Kjaer tells Jacki Buist

Wind power facilities in Dobrogea, Romaina's wind power hot spot
Wind power facilities in Dobrogea, Romaina's wind power hot spot
Those looking towards the EU target of sourcing 20% of the continent’s energy from renewable sources by 2020 will be pleased to know that the European electricity grid is filling up with wind-generated power, with new installations this year expected to match those of last year.

And this is despite many of the orders being placed in the wake of the financial crisis. The progress is a testament to the strength of the EU market, says Christian Kjaer, CEO of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA).

Restrictions hamper wind leaders

EWEA is forecasting another 10GW of wind power capacity to be installed in 2010, 9GW of that onshore.

But this year it is the newer markets that are increasing their contributions as growth in some of the more wind-strong countries slow down.

Thanks to a cap on wind development, Spain is expected to show a decline in new capacity, while markets in France and Italy are stagnating. "There is great potential in France, but it is being restricted by planning barriers," says Kjaer, acknowledging the problems of French wind development zones, which had appeared to be so promising.

Germany and the UK should increase capacity, retaining their status as market leaders. But while the UK will install more capacity than in 2009, this is largely down to offshore development. Onshore is a different story.

"The real onshore constraints are in the UK, where getting approvals is rather complicated," says Kjaer.

"The planning procedures are simply not good enough."

An EU-funded report shows that average administrative lead times for onshore wind energy projects receiving consent and grid connection is three and a half years, requiring direct contact with nine authorities.

EWEA is now recommending a one-stop-shop approach in all member states.

New markets pick up speed

It is the newer member states, notably Bulgaria and Romania, that are pushing ahead, with both expected to double their installations this year. "When they joined they had to sign up to the old renewables directive. Last year a new directive was passed, which they were part of," says Kjaer.

"Being the last two members, they have had less time to prepare legislation in terms of planning. They have done this rapidly, and because they can put up a lot of megawatts means that they are certainly doing it right."

Indeed, in Romania’s Dobrogea region, Fantanele-Cogealac, set to be Europe’s largest onshore wind farm at 600MW, has just commissioned its first turbine.

So, should developers now be looking to Eastern Europe?

It is not that simple, cautions Kjaer. "It may be easier to get planning permission, but you don’t get the same return on your investment," he says. "And think of your knowledge of the market. Where is your experience?"

Kjaer points out that the emerging markets would become more attractive to developers if they had schemes such as the UK’s renewables obligation, which requires electricity retailers to source a rising proportion of their power from renewables by buying certificates (ROCs) or paying a penalty.

"If I could put up a wind turbine onshore in Scotland and get it connected, that’s what I would do," he says. "It has excellent wind and good, solid pay mechanisms.

"The ROCs benefit highly compared to other European countries. Norway is also a great resource, but it has difficult planning and non-existent payment mechanisms."

Prospects for next year will depend on whether the world starts to move out of the economic crisis and finance picks up again, says Kjaer, adding that EU members are due to submit estimates of how much they expect to build each year until 2020.

"That will at least show political commitment," he says.

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