Research funding looking good

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Wind energy now seems set to dominate the European Commission's funding of energy research and technology development (RTD) in the non-fossil fuel arena. No other single category has had so many projects funded nor reaped as much money under the current programme for Joint Opportunities for Unconventional or Long Term Energy (Joule III), which runs from 1994-1998. Under Joule III, 45 wind energy research projects have been selected so far for over ECU 25 million of support. Under Joule II, from 1992-1994, 29 wind projects were granted ECU 11.6 million.

News of the latest selection of wind projects for Joule III funding is emerging from the EC's Directorate General for Energy, DG XII, two years after the programme was rocked by a headline-making budget scandal. Commission officials in September 1995 were accused of falsifying project evaluation documents and hijacking 20% of Europe's renewable energy budget. At the time this money had been re-distributed to fossil fuels and to "rational use of energy" (Windpower Monthly, October 1995), with renewables shortchanged by ECU 20 million.

It now appears that most of the "indicative" budget of ECU 100 million allocated to renewables for the first Joule III call for proposals -- and approved by the European Parliament -- has been returned (see tables right). Funds allocated to renewables projects as a result of the first call for proposals in 1994, and an additional mini-call for proposals in 1996 following the scandal, amount to about ECU 98 million. Wind has secured 25% of this total.

From the first call for proposals, fossil fuels get ECU 28.2 million, ECU 7 million less than announced in 1995 when the scandal erupted, but ECU 3 million more than the indicative fossil fuel budget. Rational Use of Energy (RUE) continues as the big winner, securing over ECU 20 million more than budgeted for, while Energy RTD Strategy gets ECU 4.4 million less than planned.

As a result of the increased funding for RUE and Fossil Fuel, the entire Joule III budget for the first call for proposals would appear to have been upped by more than ECU 15 million, despite the cut back for Energy RTD.

Joule III specifics

Wind energy alone receives almost as much funding as the entire allocation to fossil fuels after Joule III calls for proposals in 1994 and 1995. In addition, six of the nine projects in the "integration" sub category of renewables involve wind energy to a greater or lesser degree (see tables next pages). The remaining three, though still generic in nature, are more relevant to biomass. Also of benefit to wind, although more indirectly, is the inclusion of further work on the external costs of electricity generation in the "modelling" sub-category of the Energy RTD Strategy area of activity. The work builds on the "ExternE" study which has laid the foundations for the political push to have the full costs of electricity generation reflected in its price, thus helping to level the market for wind.

The funding allocations made for each of the main renewable technologies would indicate that wind, PV and biomass are all seen as being of roughly equal importance in the field of EU energy research in the early stages of Joule III. Rational use of energy projects receive two-thirds of the renewable energy budget, reflecting the high potential of this important area.

Wind's 45 projects are broken down into three distinct areas. "Generic research and development" gets nearly ECU 8 million, "development of machines and components" ECU 10.9 million and "applications" ECU 6.5 million. Government research institutes or university research departments dominate the list of project leaders, but 17 companies from the commercial world are also taking a lead in wind energy research, including six wind turbine manufacturers from four countries: Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany and the UK.

The objectives of the Joule wind programme are "to stimulate a wider penetration of wind energy in the European Union by reducing the cost of wind generated electricity and by improving wind turbines in relation to reliability and public acceptability," according to Komninos Diamantaras of DG XII. The aim is to reduce costs to the level of today's cheapest source of electricity in Europe, he says. "This will increase confidence in wind power technology, appeal to utilities and help the European wind turbine industry maintain its position as world technology leader. Efforts will be made to develop the use of unconventional sites, especially in more complex terrain, in regions with lower wind speeds and in regions with very high wind speeds."

The large number of wind projects selected -- more than in any other technology -- reflects not only today's wide diversity of design options (Windpower Monthly, October 1997), but also a diversity in applications. These range from desalination systems for islands -- a desalination application wins the largest amount of cash for one project at ECU 1.75 million -- through to large scale wind farms. "The fact that wind energy has left the laboratory and is now a credible energy technology is reflected in the wide spectrum of topics," comments UK energy consultant David Milborrow, a close follower of the EU wind support programmes.

Environmental issues, such as noise, are also seen as important in the funding allocations, receiving ECU 2 million. Similarly, the significance of proper integration of wind power plants into the electricity networks is reflected in the five or more projects which address this key issue, directly or indirectly.

Well over a dozen projects are concerned with new or improved components, suggesting there are good prospects for further cost reductions and improvements in performance. "Economic optimisation" is a common theme which runs through many of the projects. Since wind economics depend on a proper understanding of the complex nature of wind turbine loadings, it is not surprising that further work on dynamics and fatigue has been subsidised.

New turbines

Only two projects involve new machines, but they account for around 15% of the EU wind funding, absorbing ECU 3.5 million of the total. The Windtec 1200 kW machine, being developed by Gerald Hehenberger and his team in Austria in co-operation with the Verbund electric utility, has a very specific target. It intends to generate wind power for ECU 0.038/kWh at a hub height wind speed of 8 m/s. This would bring the price of wind power down to that of cheap fossil generation today, but only at very good wind speed sites such as found in Britain and Ireland or in southern Spain.

The second project also has a specific target. The aim of Bonus with its 1 MW machine is a 10% reduction in energy costs compared with output from existing machines. Both these megawatt scale turbines will use variable speed, but with different technology. Furthermore, the Bonus machine aims to reduce its visual impression on the landscape by adopting a "stealth" approach to the machine's manufacture: the blade and tower colours will be carefully selected, with the former possibly being translucent.

The future

The current Joule programme comes to an end this year along with the EU's fourth framework programme for research. Framework Programme V is soon to see the light of day and has been allocated a budget of ECU 16.3 billion, a 3% increase on the previous programme, to cover four RTD "activities." Wind is expected to be part of the EU activity for promoting sustainable growth under "advanced energy systems and services," which Diamantaras describes as a "key action." Decentralised systems, interconnected systems and energy storage are the important components. The first call for proposals under the fifth framework programme is scheduled for end 1998.

Diamantaras envisages a new future for wind. "Wind energy has come of age and verification, reflection and reorientation of the R&D needs is unavoidable," he told the European Wind Energy Association's Dublin conference in October. "Utilities throughout the European Union are starting to realise that wind energy is viable and that it works -- and some of them are starting to give serious consideration to it."

Predicting the areas of research needing attention in the future he singles out systems integration, grid issues, power control and power prediction as areas of increasing importance. "Engineering optimisation, reduction of specific weights and component optimisation is the obligatory path to reliable and cost effective products," according to Diamantaras. Offshore wind energy, too, gets special mention. "Realisation of even larger wind turbines will most probably be the core of research and development under the fifth framework programme." He warns, however, of a "small reduction in subsidies" for wind energy.

Sources: Community Research and Development Information Service (CORDIS); Non Nuclear Energy Project Synopses (Office for Official Publications); DG XII.

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