The most significant news of Vind '95 -- held November 7-8 in Stockholm -- emerged from a panel discussion on the future of wind power in Sweden held on the first day. From the energy ministry, Per Kågesson confirmed the government was considering introducing legislation for the promotion of renewable energy, similar to that in Denmark or Britain. In these countries utilities are required to buy electricity from independently owned wind plant, for which a premium price is paid. In Denmark, too, the utilities are required by government to construct specific amounts of wind power capacity.
On the three man panel together with Kågesson were Thomas Levander from the environment ministry and Göran Svensson from utility Vattenfall. The government representatives acknowledged that without an official goal for wind power in Sweden, regional planning authorities were not giving applications for permission to install wind plant much priority. Although not wishing to set a specific target, Levander and Kågesson agreed that five terrawatt hours -- generated by 4000-5000 wind turbines in the 500 kW range -- was a reasonable goal for 2005. This would amount to a wind power capacity of 2000-2500 MW.
From Vattenfall, Svensson was not so forthcoming, pointing out that power system planning was a matter of consumer demand. "We have to fulfil the demands of our owner [the state] on economic returns," he explained.
Svensson's reference to consumer demand could prove to be more portentous than he realised. Green electricity was a major topic of the first day and it seems the average Swedish consumer could soon be making demands the utility sector cannot yet meet. Consumer organisation SNF, a national environmental protection body, has just published its definition of green electricity. On past experience this could prove to be highly significant for Sweden's electricity supply industry. When SNF introduced green labelling of products in the 1980s, starting with paper before continuing to washing detergents and a range of other products, it had a far greater impact on consumer purchasing habits than expected. Most producers were forced to change their ways or go out of business.
SNF's plan to extend its green labelling to the energy content of products is causing cold shivers to run up and down the spine of the utility sector. Nuclear and fossil fuel powered plant are simply ruled out by SNF. To retain its green product label, a company will have to change its contract with the local electricity utility to one where the energy source from which power is derived is totally renewable. Hydro and wind will be the major options available.
The Swedish electricity supply industry is due for deregulation next year and wind plant operators are already offering green electricity to companies with foresight. The current consumer price of electricity in Sweden is SEK 0.60/kWh, while wind plant operators are paid just SEK 0.35/kWh, plus a state subsidy of 35% of the cost of a wind plant. Once out on the open market wind is likely to receive far more in a country of clear green ethics.
The Swedish wind community is still sharply divided between its old guard of state financed researchers and a new breed of visionary citizen anxious about the environment and willing to take part in the commercial development of renewable power plant. These two factions, represented by state research institutions on the one hand and the Swedish wind power association on the other, remain at loggerheads with little respect for one another. The state researchers are regarded as out-of-touch boffins in computerised ivory towers by members of the wind association, while the old guard referred to the newcomers irreverently at Vind '95 as "bearded amateurs." This despite the fact that several local utilities have joined the wind association.
The clash goes deep enough to cause day to day problems. At the conference, a planned press conference was abruptly cancelled. An off-the-cuff remark from the old guard revealed why. "We didn't want any bearded amateurs on the panel." Matters were brought to a head by this exchange, however. The quarrel ended in an agreement that the Swedish wind association will be included as one of the organisers of the next conference.
Research in Sweden continues to be dominated by mega-thinking, despite the failure of the costly development of two multi megawatt machines, at Maglarp and Näsudden, to result in anything even remotely ready for commercialisation. This is a trend which worries Björn Montgomerie, a wind power researcher from FFA, the Swedish aeronautical institute, currently on secondment to ECN, the Dutch national laboratory and wind turbine testing centre. Montgomerie pointed out that eight generations of smaller turbines could have been developed for the same money in the same time span, giving the Swedish wind industry some much needed technical maturity.
Now, instead of consolidating on a medium scale machine, the Nordic 400, the Swedish wind industry has already scaled it up to 1 MW and installed a prototype on Gotland, he continued. Not content with that, the company is working on yet another version, with a direct driven permanent magnet generator. The point was demonstrably brought home at Vind '95 when a delegation from India tried to order 500 turbines from Nordic Windpower. Nordic was unable to oblige because the Nordic 400 has not been developed into a functional commercial turbine.
Montgomerie argued that both Nordic and Zephyr, Sweden's second wind turbine manufacturer, would be better off concentrating on selling their existing wind turbines to the home market. With a subsidy programme in place, the market is strong. Yet only Danish wind turbines are being sold. Zephyr reported at the conference that is working on a 750 kW prototype with passive pitch control, but without a flap.
Should the Swedish industry ever be given a chance to get off the ground, it should be in good stead, according to Montgomerie. Basic research in Sweden on structural dynamics, profiles, loads and other topics is at the forefront of the international wind energy field, he says. Despite this, research funds have been severely cut to just SEK 7 million today compared with SEK 113 million in the Netherlands.
The frustration with the state programme is magnifying itself in a break away movement, with some wind plant developers starting their own research and development programmes. Vindkompaniet is to study offshore wind plant construction and another small wind company is to co-operate with partners in Denmark, Finland and Austria in a demonstration project for an installation in the Swedish fells. Both projects are looking to the European Union's wind power support programmes for cash. The risk for the established R&D sector in Sweden is that it will be left behind not only by commercial industrial development in other countries, but also by the "bearded amateurs" at home it has poured so much scorn on.