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Gavin Smart’s Dispatch from Wind Energy Hamburg 2018: Part 2

ORE Catapult WindEnergy Hamburg

WindEnergy Hamburg

There’s a reason why Gavin Smart is the Catapult’s Head of Analysis & Insights. There are few who can match Gavin’s level of forensic, up-to-the-minute examination of the state of the offshore renewable energy sector, so we asked him to immerse himself at WindEnergy Hamburg 2018 – one of the biggest wind power conferences in the world – and report back on the key trends, themes and dialogues he found.

This is Part Two of Gavin’s analysis – read Part One here.

In Part One, we looked at electrification and sector coupling and digital wind and new technologies as two of WindEnergy Hamburg 2018’s four main themes. The other two standout themes were the wind industry in a merchant environment, and new markets, new frontiers: the long-term outlook. Let’s examine what these mean for the industry in a little more detail.

The wind industry in a merchant environment

Unfortunately, I did not manage to attend any of the sessions on this topic. However, there was mention in other sessions that the demand for renewable energy corporate PPA’s continues to grow. Some of the digital sessions also highlighted that sharing of historic and expected performance data can put the parties on both sides of the PPA in a better position to understand the sharing of risk and value. This should also be viewed in conjunction with the ability to access the balancing markets: focus should not be 100% on maximising output for a PPA; this should be balanced with the potential value from participating in the balancing market to understand the optimum mix between these 2 key sources of revenue.

New markets, new frontiers: the long-term outlook

The one session I attended in this theme was on the topic of next generation larger turbines and this provided an interesting perspective. OEMs were represented by Senvion and LM, together with Make Consulting and a representative from Ørsted.

Much of the discussion centred on 10MW and 12MW turbines, with no hint that there are turbines larger than 12MW currently in development. When asked whether the absence of turbines larger than 12MW in the mid-2020’s was a threat to delivering on zero-subsidy projects (Ørsted cited 13-15MW turbines as one of the reasons they were able to bid zero-subsidy in German projects to be commissioned in 2024-25), members of the panel were of the opinion that the cost reductions to be delivered using 10-12MW turbines will be sufficient to deliver zero-subsidy contracts economically. What was not made clear was how far a 12MW turbine platform could be uprated (eg. 13, 14 or 15MW) without moving to a new platform or even increasing blade length. In my mind, this is a crucial point.

LM advised that it is working on how to increase blade length while limiting the increase in blade mass.

Joining it all up

Something which dawned on me very early in proceedings is that, while these are each complex and fascinating areas in their own rights, they are inextricably linked, and maximising overall value and impact will depend on understanding and building on these links.

Achieving the highest level of decarbonisation depends on increased electrification in heating and transport. This requires increased levels of clean electricity supply. Increasing levels of clean energy supply, particularly variable renewables, requires major modification to national and international grid infrastructure and market mechanisms. Increasing penetration of variable renewables will also benefit from electrification of heat and transport as modes of energy storage. Which takes us back to the start. These issues are all related and, if tackled in a joined-up way, can result in complementary solutions.

A key enabler of the changes needed at the levels of individual generation asset, wind farm, national grid, inter-grid connection and consumer demand behaviour is the development of appropriate data and digital solutions. These will take various forms, such as: increased compatibility between national grids and between distribution and transmission systems to relieve bottlenecks; improved forecasting of electricity generation and matching with storage capacity; and immediate pricing signals to allow consumers to become prosumers.

To a large extent, progress in all of these areas is constrained by trying to fit new forms of variable, clean generation into an energy system designed for more naturally flexible, but carbon-intensive forms of generation. We need to move from a system which is constantly seeking to supply the right amount of electricity at the right time in order to match demand, to a system which enables electricity consumers to adopt patterns of consumption which make best use of the amount and timing of electricity supply. Identifying and joining up all the appropriate data flows will allow the relevant parties to make the right choices to make this happen.

Download Gavin's Analysis Paper,  Moving Toward a Subsidy-Free Future for Offshore Wind

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