Ray of hope in deregulation bill

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The poor price paid for wind power, difficulties with planning authorities, an update on current research and development and a debate on big versus small wind turbines, were the main topics of discussion at Sweden's bi-annual wind energy conference, Vind 94. Arranged by the Swedish aeronautical institute, FFA, the event was held in Stockholm from March 16-17.

Despite plans for wind power to eventually replace much of the nuclear power capacity being phased out in Sweden, installed capacity is only 30 MW at present. One of the reasons for the sluggish progress of the market is the poor price paid for wind power, said independent consultant Staffan Engström. He pointed out that just SEK 0.28/kWh is the price paid in Sweden, compared with SEK 0.50 in Holland, SEK 0.72 in Denmark, SEK 1.06 in Germany and SEK 1.30 in Britain. This is far too low argued Lennart Blomgren from the Swedish wind power association.

A bill on the deregulation of the Swedish power system, now on its way through parliament, might improve the prospects for wind power, however. Lennar Werner from the government's co-ordination office said that if the bill becomes law the wind tariff will be established at 80-90% of the consumer price of power and the utilities will still be obliged to buy electricity from small producers. He also said that attempts by government agency Nutek to divert money from a market stimulation programme for wind power to funding research and development of large machines would not be allowed.

In the meantime, the central planning authorities and their interpretation of laws on the protection of nature and natural resources continue to constitute a big hurdle for the development of wind power in Sweden. Representatives of these authorities explained their views at the conference, but Inga Carlman, author of Gone With the Wind, a dissertation on wind power in Sweden, criticised them for the lack of stringent planning criteria and for applying stricter rules to wind power than to other projects, such as the building of roads, car parks, marinas, and so on. The county of Halland was cited as an example, where potential sites for 1000 wind turbines were reduced to sites for just 11 turbines once all interested parties had been allowed their say in the matter. As a result, Halland's ambitious plan for wind power failed, said Margareta Svensson of the Halland county administration. Government agency Nutek is now trying to make wind energy a national priority to strengthen its position in the planning process.

The second day of the conference was devoted to a presentation of current research and development. Three organisations reported on their work: FFA, which works on aerodynamics, loads and materials; the technical university Chalmers in Gothenburg, which researches electrical systems for variable speed and has a small test turbine on Hönö; and the meteorological department at Uppsala university which studies wind conditions in different topographical environments. Reports on current wind turbine projects, the Nordic 400, the Näsudden II megawatt-scale machine (see Wind Wire in this issue) and Zephyr (Windpower Monthly February 1994) were also delivered.

Big versus small

For years a bitter battle has raged in Sweden over the wiseness of the government's continuing attempts to develop a viable megawatt scale wind turbine while neighbouring country Denmark forged ahead with a market for small wind turbines. A formal debate on the issue was the highlight of Vind '94, with Gustav Tallqvist of the Finnish wind power association in the unenviable position of mediator.

The debate kicked off with discussion of whether megawatt turbines were the best use of available land area. The conclusion was that in a straight line formation, this was probably the case, but not necessarily so in a classic wind farm formation. Moving on to cost efficiency, nobody on the panel of experts even dared to make a guess about the cost efficiency of megawatt-turbines, forcing Tallqvist to rapidly conclude that the answer was hidden in a veil of mist.

A debate on public acceptance of small versus big turbines followed, with Sten Lundgren, an expert on acoustics from the Royal Technical University in Stockholm, presenting some hard facts on noise. Big wind turbines make more noise per installed kilowatt than smaller turbines, he argued, showing diagrams to prove his point. That one big turbine makes more noise than a small one is obvious, but it also generates more noise than a group of smaller turbines with the same total effect as a big one. After two hours of discussion, with Tallqvist valiantly maintaining peace between the two sides and attempting to engineer a consensus, the conclusion was that there was probably a time and place for all sizes of wind turbine.

If they prove to be cost-effective, we prefer big turbines, explained Göran Dahlén from utility Vattenfall. Small turbines in the 20 kW range can also serve a purpose for supplying power to individual properties in the countryside. However, Olof Sandberg from Nutek could not find any reason to support research and development of small turbines. They are not cost-effective, was his unshakeable opinion. The Swedish wind power association, which promotes the commercial installation of wind turbines in Sweden, took the middle path, saying that the medium sized wind turbines available on the market today are the best option.

The most critical issues facing wind power in Sweden today -- the slow pace of development and the failure of the market stimulation programme (there has only been limited interest in the government subsidies available for wind turbine installations) -- were not on the agenda at Vind '94. But new projects were being discussed behind the scenes. Local wind companies are no longer planning the erection of single turbines, but of clusters of machines and small wind farms for community wind power projects initiated by citizen groups. As in the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany, this market could hold an enormous potential for the wind power industry.

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