Sustain '99: Wind in a sustainable league of its own

Google Translate

Drawing together all forms of renewable energy under one 17,500 square metre roof in Amsterdam, this year's World Sustainable Energy Fair, SUSTAIN '99, provided a useful opportunity to assess the health of the broad clean power sector as well as the place of wind within the renewables family. On the evidence of the 14 separate conferences and 210 exhibition stands to be found at SUSTAIN '99, the news on both counts seems to be reasonably positive.

Two years ago the chairman of the first SUSTAIN conference, Jose Goldemberg, speaking on an exhibition floor dominated by state of the art wind turbine technology, closed the fair with a call to arms. Wind should move out of its niche market and start playing with the big boys of the energy world, he said. His words seem to have been taken to heart. The second edition of SUSTAIN was less concerned with promoting the viability of renewables as an energy source than with the implementation of the policies which will ensure they play a significant role in the energy mix of the next century. Getting down to business, rather than saving the world, was the main preoccupation of most of the 8,000 visitors, from 72 countries, to the Netherlands' prestigious RAI exhibition hall this year.

The shift in emphasis was clearly marked in the conference program. Where SUSTAIN '97 had given the podium to "green visionaries," two years on, with separate conferences on Global Market Opportunities and Trading in the International Energy Market, it was the representatives of oil companies and utilities who featured prominently in the invited speakers lists. The big boys had come to town, because, in the words of Jeroem van der Veer, managing director of the Royal Dutch/Shell Group, "We see real and increasing opportunities coming out of our interest and investment in new energy sources."

The European Commission's headline conference, Implementing Renewable Energy in the 21st Century, further emphasised the theme. With European energy ministers endorsing the commission's 1997 White Paper on Renewable Energy on May 11, Amsterdam provided the energy directorate, DG XVII with the ideal opportunity for the launch of its much heralded renewable energy initiative, the so-called "Campaign for Take-off" (Windpower Monthly, June 1999).

With a whimper

The launch of the campaign, however, was a lack lustre affair which raised more questions than it answered. Intended as a pump-priming exercise, the Campaign for Take-off (CTO) is being provided with some EUR 1 billion from European Union coffers. Member states are to contribute a further EUR 6 billion, which it is hoped will mobilise a total of EUR 30 billion of new investment in renewable energy projects. Conference chair and keynote speaker Hermann Scheer, head of solar lobby group Eurosolar and a member of the German parliament, outlined the thought behind what amounts to the central plank of EU renewables policy up to 2003. "Doubling the EU's current renewables share to 12% by 2010 will require the implementation of thousands of small projects and initiatives rather than concentrating on a few large centralised projects," he said. "This in turn will require a widespread cultural change, hence the need for a campaign for take-off which will stimulate such initiatives."

The specific targets of the campaign were reiterated by Mariangels Perez Latorre, the head of renewables at the EC's directorate general for energy, DG XVII: one million PV roofs; 15 million square metres of solar collectors; 10,000 MW of wind turbines; 10,000 MWth of CHP biomass; one million dwellings heated by biomass; 1000 MW of biogas installations; five million tonnes of liquid biofuels. The conference itself, said Latorre, was intended to "demonstrate examples of the direction we are taking" and introduce "The Renewable Energy Partnership," a plan to introduce "new actors in the campaign between the commission and public authorities, industries and associations." But, like everybody else, the EC was in town primarily to "make business," she explained, inviting interested parties to drop by the DGXVII stand on the exhibition floor to discuss specific proposals.

On the CTO conference floor wind received comparatively little direct attention, reflecting a general consensus that of the CTO's various targets, 10,000 MW installed wind capacity was the least problematic. "Wind is a mature technology," said Scheer, "and with Germany and Denmark together having already realised some 6000 MW installed capacity, the 10,000 MW target may well be overrun by 2010." As a mature technology with an established market position, the DGXVII partnership program will be used primarily to support economically marginal wind projects on remote, island and low wind regime sites.

According to the CTO guidelines, provision will be made for the support of 450 MW of privately owned wind turbines, 1000 MW of small commercial farms under 5 MW, 4500 MW of large commercial wind farms up to 100 MW, and 3000 MW of utility owned plant. Within the last two categories special attention will be paid to offshore developments and the CTO will actively support the efforts of European manufacturers to develop offshore technology.

In total some EUR 2.02 billion of public funds will be made available for investment in wind with an average rate of support of 20%. This is expected to mobilise a total of EUR 10.1 billion from the private sector, making wind the largest single beneficiary of the CTO program.

Wind may also stand to benefit from a $20 million Sustainable Energy Initiative announced by Shell during the conference. Although details had yet to be finalised, in principle any non government organisation can apply to the fund for help with site-specific projects, said Shell's Van der Veer.

On and offshore

Despite wind's low profile in the main conference auditoriums and a noticeable reduction in the hardware on display, wind watchers were well served in Amsterdam with two venues offering a full program of wind specific presentations running concurrently throughout the three days. A pavilion hosting the Wind Energy Bureau, sponsored by international wind plant developer M&N, provided soap-box space on the exhibition floor for a number of presentations. First day papers covered regional studies from as far afield as South Africa, Sweden, Spain and Ireland. Grid category turbines formed the focus for the second day's program with most major turbine manufacturers presenting technical papers, while the final day featured an eclectic range of presentations on the theme of innovation in wind energy. Few of these sessions were well attended, however.

Directly across the aisle from the wind energy pavilion, the Vestas stand hosted a rolling seminar series on offshore developments with representatives of Dutch energy agency Novem, Dutch consultancy E-connection, Smit Maritime Contractors, Vestas, Gen BV, Dutch utility NUON, ABB and the Dutch Smulders Group all making contributions. With Novem revealing its proposals for a 600 MW North Sea project (page 19), offshore wind development was clearly on the minds of many of the exhibitors present. Of the major manufacturers, the European wind division of America's gas giant Enron, Tacke, best caught the mood of the moment by showcasing a 2 MW, TW 2.0 Offshore unit. In a joint effort with its collaboration partner in the Netherlands, German industrial giant Siemens, the Tacke/Siemens display won the award for best stand.

Elsewhere on the floor, Dutch engineering consultancy, Stentec, presented a system for optimising pitch control, which it believes is destined to significantly increase the economic feasibility of offshore generation. The Ultimate Pitch Control system uses smart blades which, by imposing a cyclic pitch on the collective pitch angle of a rotor, can eliminate turbulence within the rotor field and thus reduce tower loads by a factor of three or more, claimed Stentecs' Richard Luijendijk.

Policy Disputes

In terms of technology, SUSTAIN left little doubt that the wind industry is ready to make the leap into deeper waters. Whether this technological maturity has been matched by a corresponding growth in its political maturity was more difficult to assess. While there was clear hostility from some participants to the replacement of a subsidised market with a commercial market more able to stand the test of time, there was also plenty of evidence of an industry lining itself up for a commercial future, particularly in the host nation.

The Netherlands is already trading wind power as a commodity in the form of Green Labels. But its only now that the Dutch wind market is showing signs of new life. Novem's Ruud de Bruijne attributed the slow growth to "public acceptance problems." But Andreas Wagner from the German wind association argued that Germany had managed to avoid these problems because its fixed price subsidy system encourages a greater number and diversity of players in the sector.

Such policy clashes, however, did not dominate SUSTAIN '99 as they did the European Wind Energy Conference in Nice in March. For the most part advocates of the German REFIT fixed tariff system were on their best behaviour, perhaps accepting the fact that in the land of the Green Label there was little to be gained in proclaiming the virtues of price subsidies too loudly.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles
and free email bulletins.

Sign up now
Already registered?
Sign in