Wind power took a step up the ladder in 2016 to become the second largest source of power generation capacity, although with a small margin. 16.7 per cent of the EU’s power generating capacity now belongs to the wind sector as opposed to coal’s 16.5 per cent, according to a report published by the European wind organisation WindEurope.
Growth in wind power is a trend that has been seen for the past ten years in Europe with wind overtaking the power generating capacity of fuel oil in 2007, nuclear in 2013, hydro in 2015 and now in 2016 coal, leaving only gas bigger. In 2016 alone, new wind power capacity amounted to 12.5 GW or 51 per cent of total new power capacity installations in the EU, and considering that 7.6 GW coal capacity was decommissioned at the same time, the new-gained position is not so surprising.
From a Vattenfall point of view, it is interesting that of the four countries contributing most with new capacity in 2016, the company is active in three. The German share of the new installed capacity was a stunning 43.6 per cent, Netherlands’ contribution was 7.1 per cent, UK’s 5.9 per cent while France, where Vattenfall is not engaged in wind, squeezed itself in as number two with 12.5 per cent. Another interesting fact is that, according to WindEurope, Denmark was in the lead when it comes to the contribution of wind to the national power supply with 36.8 per cent and a margin of 9.8 down to Ireland.
Giles Dickson, Chief Executive Officer of WindEurope, says:
“Wind energy is now a mainstream and essential part of Europe’s electricity supply. It is also a mature and significant industry in its own right, now providing 330,000 jobs and billions of euros of European exports”.
Vattenfall’s Head of Wind Gunnar Groebler agrees and is pleased that Vattenfall is engaged in the biggest European growth markets and believes that it will be motivating and inspiring for the wind teams that they are part of this development in Europe. Groebler points out that figures for individual countries can fluctuate from year to year as new wind farms are put up for auction and political and regulatory initiatives change, but in his eyes, the new won status might also make it easier to create a pull from policy makers to focus even more on new wind projects in the future.
Groebler is quite confident of Vattenfall’s future position in the European energy market:
“We are definitely in the hub of European wind development and in an excellent position to play our part in the continued development of new capacity. We have committed ourselves to grow by 400 to 600 MW annually, and over the coming years projects such as the Danish Horns Rev 3, UK Aberdeen Bay, German offshore Sandbank, UK onshore Pen y Cymoedd and Ray will add more than 1000 MW. In the longer term we have already signed the Danish Kriegers Flak and the two Danish near-shore projects with a total of around 1000 MW. The tendering process in general is forcing us every time to rethink how to develop, build and operate a wind farm much more efficiently. With an offshore project at a level below 50 EUR/MWh, we have already shown, that these efforts can make a difference in the industry”.
According to Groebler, Vattenfall’s wind business is right on track, delivering on, or even above, the strategy goals with the existing pipeline, the plans for extension of the Thanet wind farm, the 3.6 GW Norfolk Vanguard and Norfolk Boreas and potential projects such as the three German North Sea projects that Vattenfall will auction for.
UK spot-on the European trend
In 2016, for the first time ever, wind generated more power than coal in the UK. According to research and analysis carried out by the UK organisation Carbon Brief, wind in 2016 contributed 11.5 per cent to UK electricity production against coal’s 9.2 per cent. The first month to see wind leading over coal was April 2016, and the bladed energy machines never seem to have lost momentum. A quite revolutionary development in a society where historically, coal has had such a prominent position.
In fact, coal was what made the Industrial Revolution possible in the UK. It served as the main fuel for steam engines, fuelled most of the country’s power stations up through the 20th century and the many coal mines scattered all over the country employed more than a million workers around 1920. In the early 1990s coal was, however, increasingly replaced by gas, and from the early 2000s renewables also gained ground with increasing focus on carbon emissions and climate change. Between 2010 and 2016 coal-based power generation dropped 59 % and in November 2016, the UK Government announced that all coal power stations should be closed by 2025.
This is in line with the overall European trend seen in the WindEurope report, but how is the development perceived in the UK?
Mary Thorogood, Stakeholder Relations Adviser UK for Vattenfall, sees this as an important moment for the UK and in large part a result of investment by the UK Government in renewables over a number of years.
“The strong emissions reductions targets set by the UK Government, more stringent than the EU's, have given businesses a clear decarbonisation pathway against which they can invest. Alongside these targets, the UK Government has already committed to phasing out coal from the system by 2025, but it's clear that the market is already moving quickly in that direction. The UK Government has continued to be clear about its commitment to decarbonisation since the Brexit vote,” she says.
In Thorogood’s opinion there is little doubt that the UK Government clearly supports offshore wind - for its clean, homegrown power and for the economic opportunities created by developers and the supply chain.
“The upcoming subsidy auction (Contracts for Difference) is very likely to show significant cost reductions for offshore wind in line with those seen in our other markets. We will not play in this auction but instead are looking towards our next offshore projects, Thanet Extension and Norfolk Vanguard, to successfully compete in the next auctions and build on our existing 590 MW in UK waters” Thorogood concludes.
Interview with Gunnar Groebler “Subsidy-free wind power in sight by the end of the decade”