Technology continues to move the industry forward

GERMANY: Wind power has made huge strides, growing from a small-scale niche technology to a substantial source of clean energy generation. And the rate of innovation continues as new solutions are developed for the ongoing challenges - onshore and offshore.

Powering up… The biggest offshore substation, top, can supply 900,000 homes with wind-generated electricity (pic: Siemens)
Powering up… The biggest offshore substation, top, can supply 900,000 homes with wind-generated electricity (pic: Siemens)

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The wind energy industry is driven by innovation like few others. It is a story of remarkable development, with the sector evolving from its initial pioneering role as a niche technology few people took seriously, to becoming the key driver of the energy transition now taking place.

The companies involved in this transition have had to adapt to diverse and changing political conditions in their respective home markets. Many economic challenges were met, and today, the key industry players are established in a multitude of markets, able to adapt quickly to highly dynamic local conditions.

These businesses must respond to technical innovations appearing in rapid succession, aiming to cut the cost of power generation, optimise and extend equipment life and support the global expansion of wind energy. From fairly basic wind-turbine site requirements, recent technology advances have led to the installation of onshore wind turbines in areas with relatively weak winds or extreme climates. Around the world, more and more inland sites become eligible for wind-power projects. Larger rotor diameters and taller towers have increased operating efficiency, contributing significantly to crucial cost reduction.

New challenges offshore

Taking wind power offshore has required another huge drive in innovative thinking. New approaches and different solutions were urgently required to make wind power work in such varied and often hostile environments. That sometimes meant technological gambles and having to cope with failure. The low number of offshore installations to date demonstrates that technological advances are still being sought.

Offshore projects continue to confront engineers, equipment manufacturers, developers and utilities with a range of special challenges, from installation to operation and maintenance. Tasks such as assembly, corrosion protection, equipment repairs and grid connections must satisfy stringent technical demands. The industry is already well on the way to achieving this, with offshore wind turbines running almost non-stop — 340 days a year on average — despite the challenging operational conditions.

This September, the biennial technical wind industry event, held for the first time in Hamburg, will give experts from both the wind and the maritime sectors an opportunity to share their knowledge, and continue to innovate and develop. International wind-industry equipment manufacturers, suppliers, developers, planners and other experts from all relevant industry segments will join to discuss new solutions for wind energy. Roughly two fifths of the exhibitors this year define themselves as offshore specialists, with many coming from the maritime sector. This gives experts from both industries an opportunity to engage in dialogue and share knowledge in the effort to cut the high initial costs of development and production.

At the same time, further innovation is needed in turbine and foundation engineering as well as monitoring and inspection solutions to provide safer working conditions for assembly and service teams out at sea. Equal importance must be given to the question how to store the clean energy generated. The industry needs the combined innovative prowess from all segments in the wind energy sector.

Bernd Aufderheide is president and chief executive of Hamburg Messe und Congress

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