Flexible grids key to wind's growth

The wind industry is on the cusp of a major shift in direction and focus. Installing turbines in likely places and getting their power on to the grid any old how is simply not going to cut it in the future, certainly not in developed markets.

To maximise its capacity to provide clean, affordable electricity, wind will need to work more closely with other renewable-energy sources and develop better storage systems and solutions.

Developers are picking up on that already, as our news reports on Vattenfall's battery deal with BMW, and its Dutch subsidiary's proposal to add solar arrays to its wind farms in the Netherlands make clear.

But there are plenty of obstacles to hamper wind power's progress in these areas, especially in Europe, as senior Vestas executive and Global Wind Energy Council chairman Morten Dyrholm points out.

Chief among them are grids that were designed and constructed around fossil fuels and lack the smartness and flexibility to extract the most from wind and solar generation. Not far behind is the shortfall in grid interconnector capacity, which is hindering more unified and efficient electricity trading across the continent.

And then there is the serious problem of over-supply, coupled with sluggish demand. Nearly 50GW of wind has been installed across European Union countries in the past five years alone. Solar PV's growth has been significant, too. But this expansion in renewable generation has not yet been matched by the decommissioning of fossil-fuel plant.

The wind industry looks ready to play its part in a more flexible and balanced energy market, but there is only so much it can do without the support of policymakers.

Big and small

We've taken an in-depth look and gone behind the scenes to pore over Enercon's new 4.2MW EP4 platform.

Onshore turbine nameplate capacity has been steadily shifting up from 3MW to 3.5MW-plus over the past few years, but the direct-drive EP4 is the first - apart from a handful of models built in small numbers - to push over the 4MW mark. It is also the first to be built with a 30-year design life. The first of a new class, or an outlier? We shall see.

There remains a place for smaller machinery, though. The Vestas turbines at the Lake Turkana project in Kenya are 850kW units, but there are 365 of them, representing 18% of the country's electricity-generation capacity.

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