Identifying what needs to be done -- Europe's research priorities

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Research and development funding of around EUR 6.7 billion will be needed to help meet the 2020 goals for wind power's contribution to European electricity supplies, according to a collaboration of research and development (R&D) interests across the industry. The European Technology Platform for Wind Energy (TP Wind) has unveiled its draft strategic research agenda for reaching 180 GW of wind by 2020 and 300 GW by 2030. The heads of the seven TP Wind working groups presented their proposals to the Commission and industry at the European Wind Energy Conference in April.

The Wind Power Systems group is concentrating on the research needed to scale up production, said Jos Beurskens of Dutch national laboratory ECN Wind Energy. By 2030 wind turbine manufacturers will need to ramp up output to some 20 GW a year to meet 300 GW of wind, with 50% offshore and 7.5 GW re-powering existing generation sites. To produce this quantity of turbines while increasing reliability and lowering costs, R&D should be focused on incremental improvements in wind turbine design. This needs a fundamental approach to understanding the current shortcomings of the technology such as why gearboxes are failing, he said.

Flexibility will be key to integrating up to 300 GW of variable supply into the grid by 2030, said Hannele Holttinen of Finland's VTT Technical Research Centre. More flexible use of the existing power system will be needed, and additional flexibility with new infrastructure. There are four priority areas, she said.

First, R&D into wind power plant capabilities will focus on operating wind farms as much like conventional power plants as possible. "And we still need research into what requirements are needed for the system at different penetration levels and different topographies." Grid planning and operation is another area: "Many things can be done to improve the existing grid and one is more Europe wide co-operation to manage the grid in a smart way to allow it to absorb more wind power," says Holttinen. Third is the topic of energy and power management: "how we manage the uncertainty and improve the reliability." Lastly, work is needed on energy markets: looking at market rules to reduce uncertainties and improve access for wind, she said.

Optimising income

"We have to look at optimising income from wind power," said Carlos Gasco of Iberdrola, outlining TP Wind's market and economics research objectives. Boosting investor confidence will lower the cost of capital for the sector. This calls for ambitious binding renewables targets and certainty in renewables support systems, he said. "We could also look at optimising revenue from ancillary services, for example voltage control and reactive power." Other priorities are adapting grid networks and grid codes to take account of wind, and adapting trading mechanisms to high wind penetrations.

More than 10% of Europe's electricity could come from offshore wind by 2030, said Allan MacAskill of energy company Talisman, based in the UK. Research is needed to help offshore become economic with other sources of generation at water depths up to 50 metres and at any distance from shore. It will also look to develop full-scale demonstration technology for deeper waters. Priority areas are fabrication; assembly, installation and decommissioning; electrical infrastructure; modification of onshore turbines for the short term and specific offshore designs for the medium to longer term; and operations and maintenance which will focus on access to the turbines, he said.

How to pay for all the research being identified by TP Wind is the task of the finance work group. Mauro Villanueva Monzón of Gamesa pointed out that according to the Lisbon objective, 3% of annual EU GDP should be allocated to R&D. For the wind industry, this would mean EUR 6.7 billion for the period 2006-2020. Member states currently contribute an average EUR 50 to EUR 55 million a year -- in line with the proportion of private sector contributions recommended by the Lisbon objective. That still leaves a EUR 1 billion gap at EC level, however, despite increased funding for wind under the latest research framework program, noted Villanueva Monzón.

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