A look at the wind energy landscape in Europe and China
Will wind be the next global energy source? Per Pedersen believes so. Pedersen is Chief Market Officer of Repower Systems AG, a German-based wind technology company that specializes in the design and manufacturing of wind power turbines.
“Ever since the financial crisis, there has been increasing concern over sustainability in all parts of the globe,” says Pedersen when asked about the commercial prospects for wind energy in the coming years. “The trend today is to convert old-fashioned industrial jobs into what politicians call ‘green jobs’, that is, jobs in industries that produce renewable energy.”
Although wind power has not yet attained the popularity of solar energy and hydropower, the wind energy market has enormous potential for growth in the next five years due to ambitious European investment in offshore wind. Pedersen recently sat down with Swiss Style to discuss the future of the wind energy industry in Europe and China.
A European super-grid
So what advantages does wind power have over more conventional forms of energy? “Wind is the most financially viable source of renewable energy,” Pedersen explains. “It is also a good resource from a governmental perspective because nothing needs to be imported in order to produce this form of energy. Wind is a largely universal resource that could be captured anywhere, and the turbines and other equipment needed to harness it could easily be produced domestically.”
The growth of the wind energy market could therefore signal a broader transition from energy dependence, in which a few countries monopolize the world energy supply, to a cheaper and more inclusive form of energy distribution.
“Energy dependence is a major problem in the world today,” says Pederson. “The United States, for instance, currently imports over 60% of its energy, in the form of oil, from the Middle East. If distributed efficiently, wind energy could liberate many regions from this crippling dependence on oil imports.” However, wind power today is still confined to a few major areas in Europe. The two largest wind grids, currently located in the UK and Germany, generate far more wind than can be used by the inhabitants of these two countries alone.
“The question now is how to distribute the energy generated from these two grids over the entire continent,” says Pedersen. “One possible solution is to create an offshore European super-grid, a project that the EU has already offered to fund and support. Wind grids have traditionally been regarded as local or national property, but the success of this emerging industry will ultimately depend on the international distribution of wind power.”
Penetrating the Asian market
While Europe remains the principal market for offshore wind, Repower is currently developing plans to expand onshore wind energy in China.
Pedersen explains that these plans could not be implemented without careful navigation of the Chinese political landscape. “Up until now, the Chinese government’s strategy was to focus investment in wind farms with the lowest cost per kilowatt of energy produced, in order to keep up-front costs low,” says Pedersen.
“However, policymakers are now beginning to adopt the more efficient strategy of investing in farms with the lowest cost per kilowatt-hour, that is, the ones that generate power using the most efficient technology.”
This change in strategy could lead to the opening of the heavily protected Chinese market to multinational wind technology companies like Repower. “As the demand for newer, better technology grows, there will be a larger window of opportunity for foreign companies in China,” says Pederson. “Today, China has a lot of wind farms but many of those turbines are standing still due to the lack of adequate technology. Therefore, our company has made it its mission to transfer newer, more intelligently designed technology to China.” Repower, which first began operations in China in 2008, has since erected 100 turbines producing 200 megawatts of power on the Chinese mainland.
“I’m proud to say that Repower turbines have a technical availability of over 99%, the highest in China,” says Pedersen. “This performance is very high even based on the European standard. Although our company respects the Chinese government’s concerns about protecting local enterprise, we also believe that it is possible to produce excellent, high-quality wind products in China given access to the right technology. Our own experience in China has already proven this.”
Pedersen concludes by adding, “The Asian market is also valuable from a global sourcing perspective. Repower plans to increase its Asian sourcing footprint substantially over the next 24 months. By helping to transfer the necessary materials and technology across different regions, we hope to usher in the era of global wind energy.”
Article by Karin Sun