Developers shift focus to northern and eastern Europe

EUROPE: Wind power developers in Europe are looking northwards and increasingly exploring the east when choosing sites for future wind farms, while southern Europe is off the radar of most market participants.

RWE has started installing foundations for its 295MW Nordsee Ost project, but grid connection has been delayed
RWE has started installing foundations for its 295MW Nordsee Ost project, but grid connection has been delayed

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This is one of the conclusions that can be drawn from Windpower Intelligence 2012 data on project announcements. The data shows developers with the largest project pipelines in the UK, Germany, France and Sweden, the latter being a new entry among the most popular development destinations.

europe biggest pipeline projects

As was the case in 2011, Romania also ranks in the top five, while other eastern markets are increasingly drawing the interest of developers. Places such as Turkey and Poland are now preferred over Spain, which had been one of the most popular countries for wind development activity in 2011 but has now dropped out of Europe's top ten.

In terms of the size of the project pipeline, the UK continues to tower over other European countries, and over the next few years the pipeline is expected to be strong both for onshore and offshore projects. "In the UK, there is a huge potential both onshore and offshore," says James Hubbard, policy officer at industry body RenewableUK. "A lot of developers are trying to move projects forward under the current incentive mechanism, which is set to end in March 2017, due to some uncertainty about how the new system will work."

Given the high costs of offshore projects, development activity off the UK coast is dominated by large utilities such as Germany's RWE and Denmark's Dong Energy. Onshore, Hubbard says there is about a 50:50 mix of both utility players and independent power producers.

euriope top ten developers

Offshore boost

On the back of its number-one position in Europe for installed wind capacity, almost all of it onshore, German development efforts are now concentrated off the coast. However, grid connection problems have slowed down the advancement of offshore projects and could discourage some developers. It has already complicated project financing, bankers say.

RWE, one of the most active firms on the European development front last year, had expected to receive a grid connection for its 295MW Nordsee Ost wind farm in the middle of 2012, notes spokesman Konrad Bocker, but now foresees a date of 2014. On the brighter side, Germany has put in place a compensation system for grid connection delays, Bocker says, although investors are waiting to see how this will work in practice.

French onshore activity has slowed a bit as investors await a European Court of Justice ruling later this year on the legitimacy of the country's tariff, although observers expect activity could pick up once the ruling - expected to be favourable - comes out. Meanwhile, offshore is also providing an impetus for development. In January, France announced a second offshore tender for 1GW and has said it is considering a third tender after roughly 2GW of capacity was awarded in the first offshore tender last year. Consortiums led by French utility EDF and Spain's Iberdrola were assigned capacity.

Should the projects be constructed, it will mean major contracts for French turbine manufacturers Areva and Alstom, which participated in the winning consortiums. Windpower Intelligence 2012 data showed German manufacturer Siemens announcing the largest number of European contracts, largely on the back of its offshore business.

Swedish surge

Sweden surged from nowhere to one of the top positions in Europe's development ranking in 2012. "There are lots of projects that are ready to be built in Sweden, so we could easily double installed capacity in the next two or three years," says Peter Nygren, chief executive of Swedish developer Arise Windpower. The extension of Sweden's green certificate system to cover Norway as well is one of the factors driving the interest.

Developers are also beginning to look at Norway now that it has an incentive mechanism in place, although that nascent interest is not yet reflected in project announcement data. "Unlike Sweden, Norway hasn't historically supported wind, so there are better greenfield sites," says David Williams, senior strategy and policy analyst at consultancy GL Garrad Hassan.

Nygren says developing wind farms in Norway is more complicated than in Sweden. Construction and operating costs are higher, he says, while the permitting process is slower, the terrain more mountainous and there are greater difficulties with the grid.

In addition to its Swedish pipeline, however, Arise is also developing a 130MW project in Norway. "In the short term, I would expect the build-up to be in Sweden," says Nygren. "It will take some time for Norway to have the permits and the grid in place."

Eastern markets

In eastern Europe, Romania continued to be a magnet for developers in 2012, but development activity in this country is widely expected to drop off sharply in the next year or two.

An attractive incentive programme applies only to wind farms operating by 2016, while the Romanian transmission system operator has warned that the country could start experiencing grid problems at around 3GW, a capacity level the country's fast-growing wind sector could already brush up against around the end of this year.

Yet developers are continuing to look east, although Williams notes that eastern markets tend to have both greater regulatory uncertainty and grid difficulties than their northern counterparts.

"We see the biggest opportunities for additional growth in eastern Europe, especially Poland," says Bocker of RWE. "There are very good wind conditions in the north and the grid is good enough."

Despite the fact there is still major potential onshore, Poland also stands out among up-and-coming markets in the east for the fact that a number of developers also have been making offshore plans. Poland last year passed the 2GW wind capacity threshold and has set a 2020 target of 6.65GW for wind - the wind industry believes as much as 13GW is possible.

Turkey is expected to be one of the hubs for wind development in the coming years, adds Williams. On paper, the potential is enormous, and it has set a target of 20GW, roughly ten times its current capacity, for 2023.

While Turkey's wind industry has suffered some teething problems - a fair share of licensed wind farms turned out not to be financially feasible because project sponsors bid excessive prices in grid connection tenders - developers agree that the build-up rate should increase significantly in the next few years. Some developers are also preparing for a new round of licensing, with a tender expected to be announced later this year.

Southern slump

Italy, which ended 2012 with an annual record for new capacity, has also become a rather dull market for development after a new incentive framework was put in place on 1 January.

The new system sees project sponsors of wind farms bigger than 5MW compete for a feed-in tariff. The end result is a major cut in the tariff and capacity limits on the wind farms that can receive the incentive price.

Spain has been sharply shoved down in the development rankings, with a moratorium in place since 1 January on new wind projects. Entry into the Spanish market is now being secured primarily through the acquisition of operational assets.

"Spain has disappeared as a market for new installations," says Williams. "Part of the shift northwards is not only because the north is looking attractive, but because the south is looking pretty unattractive."

Developer turbine purchase agreements by MW in europe

turbine purchase agreements by Mw in europe

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