The largest wind energy event of the year (probably) took place in Bilbao earlier this week. Along with his Majesty King Felipe VI of Spain, we were among the 8,000 participants lucky enough to attend and learn more about the current state of the industry. Overall, we came away highly encouraged, but there is still work to be done. Our fourkey take-aways follow:
1: The sheer scale and complexity of new turbines is quite staggering. The largest offshore wind turbine on the market today (made by Vestas) stands 187m high with each blade being 80m long, equivalent to 9 London double-decker buses. However, GE’s next iteration (demo models will be available this year, with full commercial launch planned for 2021) will have 107m long blades with a rotor distance – the tip-to-tip measurement of two blades – equivalent to the height of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Installing these is non-trivial (see below).
2: There appears to be a structural skills shortage. Many industry participants whom we met highlighted that if Europe is to hit its targets of 32% renewable provision by 2030 and 50% by 2050, then training standards need to improve. This includes all parts of the wind spectrum, from site assessment to safety management. A lack of common standards across Europe also impedes skill-sharing. Universities and large businesses need to do more.
3: Wind is becoming more of a ‘data-driven exercise’. This was the term used by one industry expert whom we met at the conference. Although bigger turbines are generally more energy efficient, the key strategy for all industry players is to lower the levelized cost of energy for wind (i.e. its like-for-like cost relative to other energy sources). Against this background, there are growing investments in data tools allowing for improved wind speed analysis and management. Given the complexity of building and installing turbines, there was also an emerging view that more of the data underpinning this operation could be performed using blockchain solutions.
4: The future is integrated. A combination of the desire to reduce levelized energy costs and simply use what is more naturally available is driving many in the industry towards integrated (or hybrid) solutions. In other words, many businesses are now looking to offer an ‘alternative energy platform’ comprising wind turbines, solar panels and battery storage. The large wind energy businesses already have such trials/ projects underway in countries as diverse as Australia, Ecuador, India and Spain. The future looks bright (or, should we say, both bright and windy).
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