Wind power ‘can help deliver European energy independence’ from Russia – WindEurope

Industry leaders outline what is needed for wind power to deliver energy security during WindEurope conference

European Commission director general for energy Ditte Juul Jørgensen speaking at the opening session of WindEurope's annual conference in Bilbao, Spain
European Commission director general for energy Ditte Juul Jørgensen speaking at the opening session of WindEurope's annual conference in Bilbao, Spain

The European wind power industry needs political support to achieve expansion targets that can help transition the EU from fossil fuel imports to renewable energy, according to industry leaders.

Amid geopolitical tensions, it must also work to ensure a steady supply of the huge amounts of rare earth materials needed for wind turbines, speakers at WindEurope’s annual conference in Bilbao, Spain warned.

During the opening session of WindEurope’s annual conference in Bilbao, Spain, speakers reiterated the need to accelerate permitting procedures for wind farms and grid infrastructure. They also called for auction designs that reward the wind power industry’s “added value” to European society.

The conference comes at a decisive moment for European energy, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine upending the region’s energy system. The EU has decided to end Russian energy imports by 2030 at the latest, and to accelerate the deployment of renewables alongside that to improve its energy security. 

Through its soon-to-be completed RepowerEU agenda – designed to help the bloc become independent of Russian fossil fuels well before 2030 – the EU wants wind energy to grow from 190GW today to 480GW by 2030. RepowerEU is also expected to require national governments to identify sites suitable for renewable energy projects in a bid to improve permitting.

In the opening session of WindEurope’s annual conference in Bilbao, the industry body’s new chair, Sven Utermöhlen, said: “The shocking war in Ukraine and the resulting energy crisis are pushing Europe to rethink our approach to energy, with the new focus on drastically cutting our reliance on fossil-fuel imports.

“Wind energy is cheaper and more reliable than imported fossil fuels, and it’s scalable. It must be at the heart of Europe’s response.”

He added: “We have the technology, the finance is available and the supply chain can be built out further. However, given the challenges posed by the war in Ukraine, we need the right government policies more than ever.”

Ditte Juul Jørgensen, the European Commission’s director general for energy, added that the commission plans to present its RepowerEU plan along with guidance on permitting procedures — a major obstacle to the wind power industry in Europe — and power purchase agreements (PPAs) in May.

She added: “We in the European Union cannot and will not continue to be dependent on Russian fossil fuels.  

“We must take charge of our energy future and never again let a third country destabilise our energy markets or influence our energy choices.”

WindEurope’s Utermöhlen also emphasised the need for auctions — an important method of allocating remuneration for wind farms in Europe — to be redesigned.

“Energy security requires more homegrown wind energy with technology that is developed and made in Europe. That will require a new approach to wind auctions,” he explained. 

“Deciding winners on the basis of price criteria alone is not the right solution anymore. We need auctions that reward the added value that the European wind industry brings in terms of sustainability, system integration and making our economy stronger and more resilient.”

Market concentration

Meanwhile, Samuel Leupold, chairman of Corio — a new standalone offshore wind developer created by Macquarie’s Green Investment Group — warned of the concentration of individual raw materials and refining processes in individual countries. 

He explained that rare earth materials needed for wind turbines and other technologies required for the energy transition are often highly concentrated in a single market, while China is the “undisputed number one refiner and processor of transition materials”. 

A disruption to one of these markets could disrupt the energy transition, he warned. 

Leupold called for renewable energy industries to position themselves as “instruments of geopolitics”, and for Europe to build a supply chain for rare earth materials, ensuring  it can  access the commodities needed for the energy transition. 

“Geopolitics is all about leverage,” he concluded. “We cannot make ourselves safer abroad if we do not change our behaviour at all.”

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