Turbines live longer as projects grow

The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) must be congratulated for the quietly efficient way it set about managing its annual event in a city still reeling from the shock of a terrorist attack just three days earlier.

Most exhibitors and over 6,000 delegates attended. It is hoped this set a template for the United Nations COP21 talks on climate change opening ten days later.

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, and ahead of the summit, US President Barack Obama found the right words: "I think it's absolutely vital for every country, every leader, to send a signal that the viciousness of a handful of killers does not stop the world from doing vital business," he said.

For make no mistake, this is vital business. Failure of the world's leaders to forge a path to greatly reduced greenhouse-gas emissions over the next decades will mean more droughts, more floods, greater pollution and falling crop yields. It is a recipe only for poverty, ill-health and instability.

The EWEA event demonstrated the wind industry's confidence in its ability to play a growing role in cleaning up electricity generation. That was evident in the announcement of new turbines from some of the sector's biggest players, including Vestas and GE, but also in the conference's various discussions and debates.

Extending turbine life

A key topic was the importance of keeping existing wind assets running as efficiently as possible. It is clear that the 20-year life of wind turbines can and is being extended, especially if the right operation-and-maintenance regimes are in place. Projects that, only a few years, ago we might have expected to see being repowered, are being kept online for longer.

This is made possible by the greater experience of operating projects and the increasing availability of data on the specifics of their operation.

The original equipment manufacturers have jealously guarded much of this information in the past, but third-party suppliers, prognostic services consultancies and independent operators are learning from their experience - and sharing more of that information. Vestas is one OEM that is responding to the market and is offering database solutions to help owners operate and manage their older turbines to extend their life.

Developers think big

Outside Europe, in the less densely populated parts of the globe, another trend is emerging - the increasing number of very large onshore wind projects under development. This is particularly apparent in China and the US, but as our developer report makes clear, is also a feature of emerging markets in Latin America and Africa.

Now that the industry has reached the stage where it requires only around 30 modern turbines for a 100MW installation, the push to find the maximum in economies of scale will continue to drive the move towards utility-scale projects.

Wind-power growth in land-constrained Europe is slowing down, while offshore wind's cost and complexity prevent it from filling that gap. But the region has the technology, the established manufacturers, the experience and the expertise to boost wind development around the world. This is why Chinese manufacturers are now focusing their efforts to expand beyond their domestic market on the continent, in some cases with the help of former staff from European manufacturers.