This is a feature from Windpower Monthly's May 2021 Insight Report. Click here to read the full edition
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Strong ambitions for wind energy and the fact that some of the world’s renewable-energy powerhouses call the region home are among reasons for optimism for wind energy in southern Europe, despite the uneven performance across countries in the area last year, Javier Rodríguez Diez, president of Vestas Mediterranean, tells Windpower Monthly.
The governments of Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece have set strong targets for wind. “Southern Europe also benefits from having some of the biggest utilities in renewables, companies that have aggressive targets and have been ambitious for a long time,” says Rodríguez. “Plans are in place, the companies and the potential are there.”
Spain (27.3GW), Italy (10.9GW), Portugal (5.5GW) and Greece (4.1GW) collectively boast wind energy capacity of around 48GW. That is set to rise to some 86GW, according to 2030 targets in national energy and climate plans (NECPs), which are likely to be revised upwards following the European Commission’s commitment to cut 2030 emissions by 55% compared with 1990 levels.
Spain’s Iberdrola, Portugal’s EDP Renewables and Enel of Italy are among the world’s biggest renewable-energy investors.
Vestas has been in Spain since 1989 and employs about 2,000 people in the country. It produces generators in Viveiro, Galicia, and blades in Daimiel, Castile-La Mancha. It also monitors about 25GW of turbines in the Mediterranean region from its surveillance centre in Madrid.
The firm has been present in Italy for 22 years and produces blades in Taranto. It just celebrated two decades in Greece and has been present in Portugal for 17 years, where it opened a design centre in Porto – one of five globally – in 2017.
Permits and auction obstacles
To ensure the region can reach its potential and new wind farms utilise the latest, most efficient technology, resolving kinks in permitting and auction processes is essential, Rodríguez stresses.
The permitting process in southern Europe “is normally long and very rigid, so that when you get to the final go ahead and the construction of the project, some turbines that are being installed have technology from four, five or even more years ago,” he explains. This is a problem particularly in Italy and Greece, he adds.
The permitting system in Spain is more flexible, facilitating the use of the most up-to-date technology. On the other hand, the auction systems in both Italy and Greece favour more mature, well-developed projects that are also more likely to be bankable, Rodríguez notes.
In Italy, a fixed, long-term calendar provides visibility on the rollout of new capacity through the auction system, “but the main bottleneck has been the permitting process and auctions have been undersubscribed”, says Rodríguez.
He is hopeful that a streamlining of permitting processes in Greece will help ensure targets can be reached and make it easier to use the latest turbine technology, allowing the country to tap into its good wind resources and leverage off the “strong presence of both local and international players.”
In Spain, there is a lack of visibility on the rollout of new capacity in auctions and more needs to be done to ensure bankability of projects participating in tenders, he says. However, Spain is further ahead in developing a market for corporate power purchase agreements (PPAs) than other countries in the region, with some 3.2GW of renewable energy PPAs signed last year.
Rodriguez is a strong advocate of technology-specific auctions and cautions against pitting wind against solar. “Not everything comes down to price per megawatt hour,” he insists. “The value of wind and solar energy is totally different. I think that wind and solar should be considered complementary for tackling the very big problem that is climate change.” The combination of wind and solar in many southern European countries also means that the potential for green hydrogen is “extraordinary”, he believes.
Rodríguez highlights the potential for repowering wind farms, particularly in Spain and Italy. Spain has some 11GW in wind turbines older than 15 years, and “repowering has to be part of it reaching its 2030 target,” he says. The story is similar in Italy, where more than 5GW of wind turbines will end their lifecycle by 2030.
Portuguese offshore potential
While wind-power capacity gains in Portugal were minimal in 2020, Rodriguez highlights the important role the country is seen playing in areas such as green hydrogen. Vestas last year partnered with Portuguese energy firms EDP and Galp, grid operator REN and industrial group Martifer in the H2 Sines pilot aiming to produce green hydrogen in Sines that will be sold in northern Europe. In the long term, the 10MW pilot electrolyser plant could grow into a 1GW facility, backed up by about 1.5GW in renewable capacity.
Portugal has also been at the forefront of developments in floating offshore wind. Rodriguez says the 25MW WindFloat Atlantic WindFloat Atlantic (25MW) Offshoreoff Viana do Castelo, Portugal, Europe Click to see full details pilot project in Portugal that uses Vestas V164-8.4MW turbines on Principle Power’s semi-submersible foundation is “producing really good results.”
Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain all intend to grow in offshore wind in the next decade, and developers are building up pipelines.
The physical characteristics of southern Europe have impeded the development of offshore wind, Rodriguez explains. “We have a small continental platform and the sea depths are high, but the potential is important and, especially with the development of floating technology, offshore wind will grow a lot in the coming years.”