A breeding ground for new ideas

In the late 1970s, in response to oil price increases, a number of government-funded programmes were initiated to develop suitable wind turbines for electricity generation. It was reasoned that large wind turbines would be needed to minimise the number that would be required to match the energy output from conventional power stations.

In the late 1970s, in response to oil price increases, a number of government-funded programmes were initiated to develop suitable wind turbines for electricity generation. It was reasoned that large wind turbines would be needed to minimise the number that would be required to match the energy output from conventional power stations. 

Programmes in the US, the UK, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and elsewhere focused on developing machines with ratings up to 4MW and rotor diameters of up to 100 metres. Large wind turbines, especially prototypes, are expensive — and the sums of money required for research were also large. Then, as now, governments generally took responsibility for strategic research, leaving the industry to focus on activities nearer to the marketplace. Governments did, however, often encourage cost-sharing with industry when the fruits of the research were likely to lead to commercial developments.

Broadly speaking, none of the early large-machine prototypes spawned commercial designs and the quest for large turbines slowed after the 1980s. This illustrates one of the hazards of strategic research programmes which, being visionary, need to set a target that is over the horizon — and that involves risk. A more cautious programme would pursue a more incremental approach, but that is generally not regarded as the responsibility of government.

Wind energy research in the International Energy Agency countries peaked in 1981 at €137 million (equivalent to about €375 million today). Although it then declined, wind energy in California, US, and Denmark continued to rapidly expand, encouraged by an alternative form of support — production incentives.

Today, wind energy development is encouraged by government-funded research and development (R&D), by utilities and by the manufacturers themselves. In the 1980s, manufacturers simply did not have the resources to fund research but, in 2009 the Danish firm Vestas spent €92 million on R&D. Assuming that is a typical figure for the industry as a whole, then total R&D spend by the manufacturers could be close to €600 million per annum.

Much government-funded research is now on a cost-shared basis and highly focused on addressing problems that have been identified as a result of operational experience. The universities, by and large, address the more challenging and risky areas, although priority is usually given to projects where there is some industrial input. The landscape is generally quite complex, and the spending plans and commitments of the featured countries overleaf, show how varied this landscape is, too.

EUROPE

Trying to pin down what the EU spends on wind power is like looking for a needle in a haystack, as different aspects of the technology are funded through various channels. The main source of funds for wind technology research is from the EU Framework Programmes (FP). Created in 1984, these aim to strengthen the scientific and technological base of European industry, and encourage its international competitiveness while promoting research that supports EU policies. The priorities of each FP are proposed by the European Commission (EC) and then have to be adopted by the European Council of ministers and the European Parliament following a co-decision procedure. 

Under the last programme (FP6), which ran from 2003-2008, €42.3 million was spent on wind energy generation research. This was from a total of €890 million for sustainable energy. The programme had no set budget per technology, but relied on applications received, says Greenpeace’s EU energy policy advisor, Frauke Thies.

Under the current FP7, which runs from 2007-2013, €28.7 million has already been spent on wind technology, from a total budget of €2.3 billion available for energy research. Wind is likely to receive more funding in next year’s spend, as the EC has announced that €210 million will be devoted to EU energy research in 2011, including €137 million for renewable energy and €50 million for smart grids. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) will receive €36 million and energy efficiency €15 million. Some 500 entities, comprising over 100 research centres, 120 universities and 220 companies are expected to benefit.

Wind energy research will also receive a boost this year, as the EC announced an extra €40 million for wind energy research. These funds will go to towards a variety of projects including Offshore Renewable Energy Conversion Platforms Coordination Action, that will work on a research roadmap with knowledge sharing for offshore renewable energy; Safewind, which is hoped will improve wind power predictability in extreme situations; and NORSEWIND programme which will work on a wind resource map covering the Baltic, Irish and North Sea.

Last year wind power development and demonstration also received €565 million for offshore wind projects as part of EU economic recovery finance for energy projects up to 2010. CCS received €1 billion.

Indeed, despite the multitude of funds given to wind energy research, the sector, like other renewables, still lacks the support shown to several technologies — nuclear in particular. As Thies explains: "Nuclear receives about €4 billion, while all other energy technologies together receive €2.3 billon."

UNITED KINGDOM

The UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change lists about 10 different sources of public funding for energy-related research and development (R&D), including the EU Programme. Until fairly recently, the government ministry, currently the Department of Energy and Climate Change, provided around £1.5 million per annum, until the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) was set up in 2007, focusing on technology demonstration. It has a potential budget of £1 billion over a 10 year period, 50% from government sources and 50% from industries BP, Caterpillar, EDF Energy, E.ON, Rolls Royce and Shell.

The ETI is tasked with developing technologies to help the UK meet its 2050 carbon reduction targets by delivering complex engineering projects, cutting risk through shared expertise and experience, and by harnessing the expertise and innovation of industry and academics. It aims to cut the costs of offshore wind power and speed up its deployment. Five projects are in the current portfolio.

The Nova project will design and study an innovative vertical axis wind turbine. It has £2.8 million ETI funding.

Helm Wind has £2.5 million ETI funding to look at offshore wind power stations, installation, design, electrical systems, aerodynamics, control and maintenance.

Project Deepwater aims to develop a 5MW floating offshore wind turbine for deep-water application, determine the feasibility of such a design and the cost of electricity. It has £3.3 million ETI funding.

A three-and-a-half-year condition monitoring project aims to develop a system that can detect causes of faults and component failures in offshore wind turbines. This could cut offshore electricity costs by 0.5p/kWh. The project will produce an onshore demonstration in late 2011, and one offshore the following year. It has £5.1 million in ETI funding.

ETI has commissioned a drive-train test facility for complete wind turbine drive trains and nacelles with input power up to 15MW. If a design is selected, the test rig will be built in the UK and support the design and manufacturing development of the next generation of very high power offshore wind turbines. Funding is £1.53 million for the design phase.

The Offshore Wind Accelerator is an initiative of the not-for-profit Carbon Trust, which helps business and the public sector move to a low-carbon economy. This project looks at turbine foundations and installation, access to distant turbines for maintenance, wind farm layouts and cutting electricity transmission loss.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council funds university Research, including the Supergen Wind Consortium, which works towards an integrated, cost-effective, reliable and available offshore wind power station.

FRANCE

One of the main sources of funding for wind power research, development and demonstration in France is likely to be the Grenelle de l’Environnement, the national debate launched by President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 to help develop government environment policy. The broad policy outline for environmental policy for the next five years was laid out in the Grenelle 1 law in 2009 and confirmed that €1 billion will be allocated to sustainable development research encompassing climate change and energies of the future. It also stipulated that the amount spent on research into clean technologies and protecting the environment will increase to equal that spent on civil nuclear research.

The French wind association adds that from the €35 billion Grand Emprunt, or big loan, announced last year to boost the country’s long-term competitiveness, €2.6 billion will be raised through the programme "investments for the future" for renewable energy: €1.35 billion for research, demonstration and technology platforms and €1 billion for institutions of excellence for decarbonised energies.

INDIA

A headache for the Indian government is how to generate power for rural areas, where most of its 1.17-billion-strong population resides, since so much of it is beyond grid reach. 

Renewable energy has a key role here and also in providing India with the energy security it needs to meet the demands of a growing economy and consumer demographic. Six years ago the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) set up an institute for wind energy research. The Centre for Wind Energy Technology (C-WET) is an autonomous organisation, with financing from MNRE.

Funds are released to C-WET based on its annual requirements and projections for new and ongoing projects. In 2010-11 it received INR 80 million ($1.17 million).

To help rural communities become self-reliant in energy and electricity generation, C-WET is sponsoring a project to develop a vertical-axis wind turbine for charging remote off-grid locations, and also a blade design for weak or moderate wind resources and dusty environments — conditions that are not uncommon in India. 

The centre also provides testing, certifications and training. It spends roughly a third of its budget on wind resource assessments and collaborates with other research institutes in India to draw on expertise, such as with National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL), to survey blade profiles and modelling strategies while researching design methodologies and tools for low and moderate wind conditions. C-WET is also investigating power quality, grid interfaces and battery-charger technology. It is working with the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory on a low-wind-speed turbine technology programme and recently looked to Scotland about offshore power. Two turbines, from 500-1000kW will be installed in Tamil Nadu for collecting data for an indigenous turbine for rural India.

MNRE anticipates an increase in budget allocation across renewable energy R&D in the coming years, particularly for solar.  

The Ministry of Finance announced a National Clean Energy fund in February 2010, which could raise more than INR 20 billion ($0.4 billion) annually for renewable energy technologies.

ITALY

Italy has no programme for wind energy research and development (R&D). The ministry for economic development is the main, although far from a major, source of government R&D funding. The ministry cannot quantify the total financing it makes available to wind energy, but a significant chunk of its funding goes through the Triennial Plan for research in the national electricity system. This plan, which expects to invest in specific energy sources, energy savings and infrastructure, is funded to the tune of €210 million for 2009-11. Only about €2 million of this is foreseen for wind energy specifically, compared to roughly €30 million for carbon capture and storage initiatives, and €20 million allocated for nuclear energy. 

Wind energy R&D spending priorities in the plan focus on the development of new and innovative technologies, and evaluating the feasibility and costs of offshore wind applications at different sea depths. This is an issue for Italy, where the sea depth in many locations may quite quickly rise to hundreds of metres, making traditional offshore installations impossible. 

The government electricity system research group ERSE is probably the most important recipient of government funding for wind-related R&D, having received about €6.5 for initiatives for the period 2009-11.

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Funding has occasionally been made available for commercial projects, such as €5.7 million to Italian turbine manufacturer Leitwind to develop a 3MW direct-drive turbine for high altitudes and a 3MW electric generator for offshore turbines.

Germany spends 7% of energy budget on wind, 31% on nuclear

Of the €538 million of funding spent by government in Germany on energy research, development and demonstration in 2009, wind took 7%. Renewables took 25% of the funds, of which wind’s portion was 27%, solar 43%. Nuclear received €168 million, 31%.

The federal ministry for the environment, nature protection and reactor safety plays the leading role in wind energy research in Germany, with 97 projects ongoing worth €97 million. An €11 million blade research project receives the largest fund.

Around 70% of the total budget goes to research institutes and publicly owned bodies. The largest amount, €25.7 million, goes to the Fraunhofer Society for Applied Research’s 15 projects. The German shipping office Bundesamt für Seeschifffahrt und Hydrographie takes €15.5 million for four projects.

Privately owned companies are carrying out 34 of the 97 projects, with a total of €29 million. Areva Wind (formerly Multibrid) receives the most with €5.5 million for three projects, including six Areva 5MW turbines installed in 2009 at the Alpha Ventus test offshore station in the North Sea. Repower Systems receives €4.9 million for three projects, the largest of which looks at offshore turbine component costs, longevity and serviceability.

Energy research is steered by Germany’s Innovation and New Energy Technologies programme, which finishes this year. The federal economy and technology ministry directs the programme, the environment ministry looks after renewable energy projects and the ministry for education and research looks after pure energy research, which includes a section on wind turbulence and its significance for wind energy use. The federal economy ministry is indirectly connected with wind energy research through, for instance, energy-storage projects. It plans to look at offshore wind energy.

Areas deemed important in wind energy include remote monitoring of wind conditions, short-term forecasts, network operation and offshore wind meteorology. For wind turbines, work is expected on non-steady-state aerodynamics, acoustics, foundation structures for deep water, access systems, ecological research and systems support network operation. 

If the government overturns a nuclear phase-out law, extra profits will possibly be channelled to the wind energy research budget. A nuclear fuel tax is also planned.
Germany’s renewables lobby is far from happy, however, arguing that an extension of nuclear plant lifetimes will, among other things, block renewables expansion.

 

US renewable energy budget gives 3.5% to wind

Of $26.6 billion in the fiscal 2010 US federal budget given to the Department of Energy (DOE), $2.24 billion is dedicated to energy efficiency and renewable energy. Of that total, about 3.5% — $80 million — is earmarked for wind power research, development and demonstration (RD&D), including $47 million for viability and $33 million for application.

The US government’s overall philosophy on wind-related RD&D, as described in a 2008 DOE report, is that reaching 20% of electricity through renewable energy sources by 2030 would avoid nearly all anticipated increases in CO2 emissions for the period, displace 11% of natural gas consumption and cut the sector’s water consumption by 8%. The report estimates that annual wind installations of 15GW per year would achieve the 20% goal while supporting 150,000 employees and providing over $20 billion in annual economic activity.
   
Fast track

The report, developed by a broad range of wind industry and energy sector exports, identifies priorities for accelerating US wind energy expansion: providing a foundation for the federal government’s Wind Energy Program, which aims to increase the development and deployment of reliable, affordable and environmentally sustainable wind power, and realise the benefits of domestic renewable energy production. This program addresses key areas including grid integration, equipment reliability, government policies, public acceptance, environmental impact and siting issues, and establishing a qualified workforce. Overall expansion of domestic wind energy generation will not only increase and diversify the domestic energy supply and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions on a large scale, but also strengthen the nation’s infrastructure by reducing the economic effects of fuel price or supply disruptions.

The program seeks to improve performance and reliability of large-scale wind energy technology and cut costs. It will also look into distributed, tribal and community-owned wind projects.  
   
Test facilities
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is the lead US laboratory for wind R&D. Alongside is the National Wind Technology Center (NWTC), which provides research, testing and certification facilities for blades, drive trains, generators and turbines. It also provides technical assistance for the government’s Wind Powering America programme to establish new sources of income for Native Americans, farmers and other rural landowners. In all, federal funding is divided among 16 federal labs and offices around the country.
   
Offshore budget

For the fiscal period 2011, the DOE is requesting $122.5 million, which includes an increase in federal funds for offshore wind development from zero to $49 million. This would address barriers to deployment of offshore wind projects — considered essential to reach the 2030 target.

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