Interview: 15 Minutes with WindEurope CEO Giles Dickson

Dickson on how wind can help the EU deliver its climate targets, what is standing in the way and making turbines 100% recyclable

This is a feature from Windpower Monthly's June 2021 issue. Click here to read the full edition

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Permitting is the single biggest bottleneck to the wind industry playing its full part in delivering EU climate targets. One of the many things that's lacking is a clear, European approach to best practice for how we simplify rules and permitting procedures, and for how we staff the authorities dealing with these.

We propose the EU take a proactive approach to this and issue guidance and benchmarks by which member states can measure their performance. We also want to identify, highlight and proactively disseminate good practice.

The more we can electrify in the energy sector, the cleaner our consumption will be. And what we can't electrify needs to be decarbonised with other low-carbon sources such as green hydrogen. We need to accelerate the deployment of heat pumps in people's homes, and we need to decarbonise the way industry uses heat. We need governments to be pursuing policies that actually encourage people to shift out of fossil-fuel heating and transport into renewable electricity.

Other industries are asking us to decarbonise their operations. There has been a marked change in attitude from sectors that used to not like wind energy because they saw us as being more expensive than other forms of energy and as "intermittent", saying we weren't providing a reliable source of energy. These sectors are knocking on our doors now.

We need to be having conversations with these sectors on how to help them. And we have to be more proactive with how we engage with the public sector.

The supply chain in Europe is under pressure today. Falling auction prices have meant costs and margins have been cut, and these pressures are passed down the whole supply chain. At the same time, we have seen the very rapid expansion in the Chinese wind-turbine manufacturing industry. We compete in third-country markets. We can still beat the Chinese on quality. We can often match them on price. But they always beat us on terms of finance: cheap state finance, low interest and long maturities.

A competitive European supply chain needs to be able to import certain materials and components from outside Europe without additional costs being added to this — tariffs, quotas, debts that may make it more expensive. It's important that the European Commission avoids, as far as possible, the imposition of tariffs or quotas.

Today, 85-90% of the material from decommissioned turbines is recyclable. We want that to be 100%.* The hard parts to recycle are the blades. We are working very closely with the chemical and composites industries to identify the best way of cutting up blade waste, of reusing it, and to develop materials that will be 100% recyclable. These are top priorities for the wind industry.

We produce and consume a lot of physical material and we are fairly central to the delivery of the circular economy. We feel a very strong responsibility here.

Despite the pandemic restricting the free movement of goods and labour for much of the year in Europe, we still managed to build 14GW of onshore and offshore combined in 2020. We had feared it would be less than that.

At the same time, we measured €43 billion of new investments in new wind farms, so there is huge investor interest and appetite to invest in wind energy.

We have learned things about the operation and management of our supply chain, how to safely go about the construction of wind-farm sites in a manner that is consistent with social distancing.

The industry has taken away good lessons about workforce engagement. Overall, it has perhaps reinforced our own confidence and our own resilience.

* This interview was carried out prior to WindEurope calling for a Europe-wide ban on landfilling wind turbine blades

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