Policy tops resources as key to success

The climate is important but it's the money they follow. The key message from our Power Places special - exclusive research by GL Garrad Hassan* that we publish this month - confirms that a strong incentives framework is vital to becoming a wind power heartland. In many areas, the wind resource is secondary.

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When the wind industry was growing up, it was the areas with the strongest wind resource that became pioneers - Denmark; the northern coast of Germany; Galicia on Spain's blowy Atlantic coast. Some of these regions have made it into the Power Places top ten, but many other premier wind regimes, such as the world-class Scotland, still fall short of the scale of development required to qualify. Indeed, only three or four of our Power Places ten have genuinely excellent wind resources. But all, in their own way, have a regulatory framework that is, or has been, benign to wind developers. As the industry has matured and technology improved, secure revenues and low business risk have become more important qualities than stiff, endless breezes.

Of course, site saturation plays its part. Many of the leading wind sites in the world are full. It is an unfortunate perversity of the sector that many of the turbines located in these premium zones are old, low-capacity stock desperately in need of repowering with newer, mightier models. As the plum sites reach saturation point, the industry has sought alternatives where the wind is less forceful.

Many of these second-tier wind regimes now lead the world. Typically, they are areas where populations are sparse and/or the economy is weak. East Germany does well. Soaring unemployment brought about by the fall of jobs-for-all communism and an inefficient energy sector have led many regions in the former German Democratic Republic to embrace wind power. They have encouraged development through government policy and helped engender that hard-to-quantify but crucial factor: public acceptance. Wind has flourished despite East Germany's relatively modest wind resources.

Meanwhile, excellent wind regimes such as those in England and Scotland lag well behind their potential because of the vacillation of government and the indifference, or even outright hostility, of the public towards the sector.

It would be better if the wind industry focused its development on those areas where resources are most bountiful. Locating projects in the modestly breezy interior of Spain is inefficient when there are sites available on the gale-kissed shores of Scotland. Yet the divergent attitudes of the equivocal UK government and its traditionally incentive-friendly Spanish counterpart mean that the wind industry has favoured Europe's sun-baked south over its windswept far north-west.

Wind is a long, long way from becoming another German solar, which headed to a country where the subsidies were on offer rather than one where the sun consistently shone. There are many great wind development clusters in many great sites, as our Power Places research shows. But, in any future top ten leagues, it would be good if those superb - but underexploited - wind regimes have acted on the fact that a strong wind sector depends at least as much on policy and attitude as it does on the climate.

*GL Garrad Hassan was created by the integration of specialist companies that now form a global renewable energy consultancy that has 750 staff in 23 countries. It has created the Power Places top ten.

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