Onshore wind looks to the grand scale

WORLDWIDE: Onshore wind is taking a leaf from the offshore book, planning projects that are measured in hundreds rather than tens of megawatts. China and the US are at the forefront of the shift to utility-scale developments, but are by no means alone.

(Image: Kevin hilton/Omela-Shutterstock)

Any analysis of the global wind power plans can only be a snapshot of the situation at any given time. The project pipeline is constantly changing as developments move from consenting to construction, are scaled-back in size, delayed, mothballed or scrapped entirely. Yet, even with an additional health warning that data from some of the less-developed countries is not always as accurate or up to date as others, our annual analysis of the figures as they stand gives a reasonable indication of developers' intentions.

As we approach the year end, the data collated by Windpower Intelligence, Windower Monthly's data division, shows a significant drop in the global pipeline. Using our usual criteria of a site having to be acquired and the project (at least 10MW) to be "in progress", the onshore pipeline to around 2025 has fallen from just over 350GW in 2014 to a fraction over 300GW this year. The offshore pipeline (see box, overleaf) has also diminished, from 106GW to 90GW in the same period.

There are a number of possible explanations for this apparent decline, including a more rigorous approach to what constitutes "in progress". For example, last year Greece showed 5.27GW in its onshore project pipeline, but the country's failure to move forward more than a small fraction of this - hardly surprising given its economic circumstances — prompted a downgrade this year to just 513MW. The likelihood of other European countries — Ukraine comes to mind - being similarly downrated in the near future must be considered high.

Europe's slump

The short-term outlook for onshore wind power in Europe does not look encouraging. The collapse of well-established markets such as Spain, Portugal and Italy in the wake of the banking crisis of 2008 has been well documented in these pages before, but growth is now slowing in France and Germany. The shift away from feed-in tariffs (FITs) in favour of competitive tendering is probably the main cause. Developers are having to work much harder to gain approval and investment for already planned projects, and their appetite for acquiring new sites has fallen as a result.

The result has been a very sharp drop in Europe's onshore pipeline capacity — from more than 100GW in 2014 to 76GW this year. And the overall situation across the continent is probably even worse than the raw figures suggest. The UK, for example, has an apparently healthy looking onshore pipeline of nearly 16GW, but the Conservative government elected in May is slashing all onshore wind support and making approval harder. So how much of that 16GW will actually be built? Only 2.37GW of it has progressed sufficiently for developers to place an order for turbines. At this stage, it is difficult to imagine that anything much more than this will proceed from planning to operations.

Across the continent as a whole, only 5.4GW (7.2%) of the 75.9GW onshore pipeline has a power purchase agreement in place, while 14.3GW (18.7%) is covered by a turbine purchase agreement. To some extent these disappointing figures can be balanced by a growing offshore sector, but the era of rapid onshore growth in Europe appears to have come to an end.

Thinking big

The outlook for North America looks rather more encouraging. The US's basic pipeline (site acquired, in progress) has grown from just over 50GW this time last year to just under 59GW now. And 22.7% of that potential capacity is backed up by PPAs and TPAs, a rather higher proportion than Europe's developers have achieved.

The most notable feature of the US pipeline has to be the sheer number of large and very large projects in development. According to WPI, the US has 196 projects of at least 100MW in development, of which more than half (104) are 200MW or bigger.

Texas, the longtime trailblazer for American wind, accounts for 38 of these sites, adding up to roughly 13.5GW. But the state showing the greatest potential for growth is Wyoming, where 6.6GW — spread across just eight projects of sizes ranging from 238MW to 2.1GW — is now under development. Bear in mind that at the last count (Windicator, October 2015) Wyoming had only 1.4GW of installed capacity. Other states concentrating their efforts on projects of 100MW or greater, include Oregon (around 3GW in 100MW-plus projects in the pipeline), New Mexico (2.9GW), North Dakota (2.8GW), Kansas (2.4GW), Nebraska (2.2GW) and Ohio (2.1GW).

How soon (if ever) some of these mega-projects are built is another matter. Pathfinder Renewable Energy's 2.1GW eponymous Pathfinder development in Wyoming, for example, is not expected online until 2023, and that depends largely on the relevant transmission links being completed.

Canada's basic pipeline has shrunk from 12.3GW this time last year to 8.2GW, but more than 40% of what remains is backed-up by either a PPA, a TPA, or both. The largest project in development is EDF EN's 400MW Taylor wind farm in British Columbia, but that looks some way off with permitting not yet completed. The 320MW Thunder Mountain project, also in British Columbia, which is being developed by Aeolis Wind and Brookfield Renewable Power, looks nearer construction with a TPA placed with Enercon. The recent election of a more wind-friendly federal government offers further room for optimism, although most energy matters in Canada are dealt with at a provincial rather than national level.

China awaits plan

The fall in Asia-Pacific's onshore pipeline, from more than 145GW last year to 117.5GW this year, looks like a blip rather than a trend. China, of course, dominates this region, accounting for more than three quarters of its installed capacity and pipeline. Our snapshot seems to have caught a moment in time when the Chinese projects that have progressed from pipeline to production had not yet been replaced by the announcement of new sites acquired from the next national five-year plan. If we were to repeat this exercise in a couple of months it would come as no surprise to find that another 20GW or more had been added. Although the rate of wind-power growth in the country is forecast to slow over the next few years as its industry focuses more on quality than quantity, the 90GW in its onshore pipeline is sufficient for only around four years of development at the projected rate.

However, WPI's research has also led to a downgrading from "in progress" to "dormant" or "on hold" for wind projects in other countries in the region, Australia providing the most pertinent example with its potential capacity dropping from nearly 18GW last year to less than 15GW this year. Even this would look extraordinarily optimistic were it not for the recent change at the head of Australia's government from the virulently anti-wind Tony Abbott to the more renewables-friendly Malcolm Turnbull. Whether replacing the prime minister will lead to projects such as Epuron's 1GW Silverton wind farm in New South Wales, announced way back in 2008, actually going ahead remains to be seen.

Like the US, China has also acquired an appetite for onshore wind farms on a power-station scale. WPI's research points to 84 projects of 100MW or more, adding up to over 13GW in capacity, that are expected to come online next year. The biggest is an eight-cluster project of 420MW in total in the eastern province of Anhui, under development by China WindPower. But two further projects of 400MW capacity and seven of 300MW are also being developed. Another 39 100MW-plus projects are scheduled for commissioning in 2017.

India's onshore pipeline may appear rather more modest than Australia's for example, at just under 5GW, but it is well up on last year's figure (3.4GW), and, with nearly three quarters of it backed up by TPAs, it has a much firmer feel to it. US yieldco SunEdison has become the prime mover in this market after acquiring Singapore-based Continuum Wind Energy in June 2015 to lay its hands on five projects totalling 1.09GW.

Marginal drop in Latin America

Latin-America shows a slight drop in its basic onshore pipeline figure from last year - call it 31GW from 32GW in broad terms - which perhaps reflects the growing influence of solar PV in the region. But it remains a secure growth market for wind power, with 45% of that potential capacity backed-up by PPAs, and 33% by TPAs.

Brazil dominates the region in much the same way as China does in Asia-Pacific, although everything is on a far smaller scale. WPI research indicates that only eight projects of over 100MW are currently under development. The overwhelming majority of wind power in Brazil's pipeline is concentrated in projects of 30MW or less. However, there is nothing very speculative about the Brazilian pipeline, with more than 80% of the 11.4GW bolstered by PPAs, and nearly half of it having completed the permitting process and with a TPA in place.

The region's other major markets — Chile and Mexico — feature healthy-looking basic pipeline figures of 5.65GW and 4.94GW respectively, very similar to last year's totals, but Mexico is further advanced with almost 40% supported by PPAs and nearly 30% by TPAs. Chile, in contrast, where solar PV is really beginning to take off, has only 8% of its pipeline backed up by PPAs and 16% by TPAs.

The Middle East and Africa region continues to show steady growth, its basic pipeline rising from 8.6GW last year to 10.3GW this year. South Africa is emerging as the region's most promising market, with 2.37GW under development, ahead of Egypt (2.06GW), Morocco (1.64GW) and Kenya (1.18GW). The region as a whole has 2.27GW in TPAs.


You don't have to look beyond China to find the world's largest wind developers. Just six firms account for nearly 40GW of the country's onshore pipeline, spread across close to 600 projects. Guodian currently manages the largest portfolio of potential capacity, with 8.36GW under development in 122 projects, not including another 430MW in which it is a co-owner.

There are only a handful of countries in the world that have that much wind in the pipeline. Longyuan has, temporarily at least, dropped to second place with 7.02GW, followed by Datang (6.86GW), Huaneng (6.23GW), Huadian (5.89GW) and Guangdong (5.24GW).

Shared developments and the recent flurry of mergers and acquisitions make it harder to pin down the full picture for western wind developers. EDF and its various subsidiaries account for nearly 3GW of onshore development, although several of its larger projects, such as the 390MW Mont de Quatre Faux wind farm in France's Champagne region are joint developments, in this case with US firm WindVision, which was brought in to help find a solution to problems with military radar at the nearby city of Reims. Construction is expected to start in 2017, with commissioning a couple of years later. If all goes ahead as planned it will be France's biggest onshore wind farm.

The big players in the US market are NextEra Energy (2.6GW) and Apex Clean Energy (2.3GW). Pattern Energy is another fast-growing developer, with around 1.7GW of pipeline projects in the US. Pattern has also been showing interest in Canada, where it has more than 300MW under development, if shared with various other companies, including RES.

Some other familiar names with substantial pipeline portfolios include Iberdrola (around 2.6GW with work on projects in countries that range from the US and Mexico to Poland and Greece); Mainstream Renewable Power (1.5GW, including a 264MW wind farm in Chile); and Enel Green Power (1.7GW, with a growing presence in South Africa).

E.on's apparently healthy looking portfolio of more than 2.3GW features a large number of onshore projects in the UK, which must now be considered as less than certain of proceeding.


Vestas' recent revival is strongly supported by its position comfortably atop the list of manufacturers with firm orders for its onshore turbines (see chart, page 31). Of the 60GW-plus that WPI has identified in global TPAs, the Danish firm accounts for more than 12GW or very nearly 20%.

GE holds orders for 7.5GW, with an increasing proportion outside the US, ahead of Gamesa (6.7GW), Siemens (4.9GW) and Enercon (3.7GW). Clearly these figures do not take into account the machines that will power China's future wind farms, but that information remains in short supply.

OFFSHORE PROJECTS: Germany sets the pace as UK plans are dropped or downsized

More than 12GW of potential capacity dropped out of the UK offshore pipeline during 2015 in cancelled developments, project down-scaling and refused aplications, the highest-profile of which was EDF's proposed 970MW Navitus Bay project off England's south coast. But at least eight projects, adding up to around 4.7GW are sufficiently well-advanced to be confident that they will proceed. This should be enough to provide the UK with an offshore capacity of 10GW by the end of the decade.

Dong Energy remains the biggest player in the development stakes. The Danish utility is currently working on the 1.2GW Hornsea 1, 649MW Walney Extension, and 256MW Burbo Bank projects. Dong has chosen the MHI-Vestas V164-8MW turbine for Burbo Bank, the Siemens SWT-7.0-154 for Hornsea 1, and a combination of both for Walney, which should make for an interesting comparison.

The UK's appetite for further offshore expansion beyond this decade is hard to assess.

Germany is now clearly Europe's fastest-growing offshore market, with 3.3GW in operation and a further 4.5GW spread across 14 projects under development and with turbine purchase agreements in place.

Again, Dong is the lead developer in four of these projects, adding up to 1.35GW in capacity. Other companies active in the German market include E.on and WPD. Although MHI-Vestas and Siemens are again the dominant turbine suppliers, there is greater variety of hardware choice in German waters. The 6MW Alston Haliade has been chosen by Nordsee Offshore, developing the 400MW Merkur project, for example.

Slow progress

Progress in France continues at a snail's pace. Of the 3GW in the pipeline, nothing is expected to be commissioned before 2018 and even that looks optimistic. Steady rather than spectacular progress is being made by Belgium and the Netherlands.

Offshore wind has been slow to take off in China, and pipeline analysis indicates little change in this respect. The 1GW Changdouw Phase 1 project, off the coast of Shangdong in the east of the country, was announced in 2010. Five years later it has moved no further in finding a buyer for its electricity or a supplier for its turbines.

The cost of offshore wind and the demands the sector places on robust technology and a skilled supply chain, are outstripping the potential financial return for developers.

WPI has identified only four projects, adding up to 1GW, that have a PPA and TPA in support. The largest is the 302MW Dongtai Phase III in the East China Sea. Developed by the Shenhua Guohua group, it will use the Siemens-licensed Shanghai Electric 3.6MW turbines.

Ambiguity in US

Was 2015 the year the US finally got serious about offshore wind? The jury is still out. The positive news was construction starting at Deepwater Wind's 30MW Block Island; the negative was the cancellation of PPAs for the litigation-embattled 486MW Cape Wind project.