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Comment: Common sense on standards

WORLDWIDE: Estimating the annual growth of wind-energy installations is a complex business, inevitably producing some variation in results.

The figures quoted throughout Windpower Monthly's global roundup of markets draws on information delivered by a network of global correspondents and project data gathered by our research division, Windpower Intelligence, measuring only turbines that have been installed, grid-connected and are generating electricity. The difference between our final figure of 48.4GW wind energy growth in 2014 and the 51.5GW cited by the Global Wind Energy Council is, in the grand scheme of things, negligible.

Whichever figure one uses, 2014 was a record-breaking year for installation, and all the indications are that 2015 will be even better and, very probably, 2016 too. Global operating wind projects will pass the 400GW mark some time this year - a doubling of cumulative capacity in less than five years - and by the end of 2016 could well be pushing close to 500GW.

Europe gives a good example of how the power-generation mix is changing. According to the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), 26.9GW of new power generation was installed across the EU's 28 member states in 2014. Wind was comfortably the biggest contributor with 11.8GW or 43.7%, and solar added 8GW (29.7%). By contrast, only 3.3GW (12.3%) of new coal capacity was added, and 2.3GW of gas (8.7%), both negated by decommissioned capacity, 7.2GW of coal and 2.9GW of gas. If the shift from conventional to renewables generation is not entirely one-way, the direction of travel is unmistakable.

The term "energy trilemma" was coined by the World Energy Council to explain the conflicting priorities of energy policy makers: to secure energy supplies, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and keep customer prices at an affordable level. Wind power's ability to resolve this quandary continues to grow.

Every little thing

The wind industry is not in a particularly celebratory mood, however, being more concerned with what will happen after 2016 as reduced support mechanisms in some of the biggest markets - China and Germany among them - start to take effect. The prospect of smaller profit margins, prompted also by the increasingly competitive nature of a maturing industry, is concentrating minds in the boardrooms.

Competition in a "united industry" was a talking point at March's EWEA offshore event in Copenhagen. How do companies share information and experience to cut costs without sacrificing the competitive edge earned from their investments in research and technology? How far can you trust your competitors and what information can you share?

The best example I heard focused on low-level common standards rather than hi-tech design. Two manufacturers, with neighbouring production facilities, often use the same contractors, but require them to change workboots from one site to the other. In the absence of a national or regional standard, each manufacturer has set its own, resulting in the unnecessary cost of two pairs of boots per worker, time taken to change, and storage. A small area for unity perhaps, but standardising an industry littered with these inconsistencies can only help offshore wind's constant drive to cut costs.

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