Living in a world of contradictions

Denmark, the country that probably did more than any other to pioneer wind power, plans to slash its onshore fleet by more than half.

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Saudi Arabia, which has the second largest proven oil reserves in the world, is working on its first commercial-scale wind project, and at a cost that suggests it will be the first of many.

This looks like head-spinning stuff until you start drilling down into the economics underlying the respective decisions of both countries.

Denmark is a very small country with a very large number of wind turbines.

The quoted figures vary according to the methodology used, but Windpower Intelligence, the data division of Windpower Monthly, points to a little over 6,000 machines in total, onshore and offshore, of which only around 1,000 are onshore units of at least 1MW in capacity.

It isn’t too hard to imagine that in the next 10-15 years Denmark could easily retain its current onshore-wind generating capacity while hugely reducing the number of turbines required to make that happen.  

Then you have to consider the offshore options, which grow increasingly more attractive as the technology improves and the costs plummet.

The Denmark plan envisions around 2.5GW of new offshore capacity being installed over the next few years, "without public support".

The Danes are experienced in offshore wind, and they have excellent, well-researched wind resources to exploit.

The more you look at the plan, the more it makes sense.

Saudi Arabia presents a very different case, and highlights the paradox of fossil-fuel extraction. Produce too much and the price falls beyond economic viability.

Produce too little, and the knock-on effects are catastrophic for developed economies still hugely dependent on fossil fuels, driving recessions that stifle demand.

Wind power offers a route out of that closed cycle for countries such as Saudi Arabia. The bids for the 400MW Dumat Al Jandal tender ranged from just $21.30/MWh to $33.86/MWh.

And these were offers made by companies with experience in wind development in challenging environments — EDF Renewables, Engie, Enel Green Power, among them.

They know their stuff. Saudi Arabia may be synonymous with oil extraction now, but that could change in a decade or two.

Global regions

We’ve been working on the way we report on developments in different countries, and the effects of competitive tendering systems.

Please check our new interactive Windicator table and country pages here

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