World’s largest offshore wind energy event ends on an upbeat note

» By | Published 02 Dec 2011

Sea-based wind turbines, enhanced grids and project financing shared centre stage at the EWEA OFFSHORE 2011 event in Amsterdam this week as it became clear the industry has the potential of becoming a driving economic force for many European coastal areas.

Hosted by the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), the bi-annual conference was told more than 141 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind energy capacity that is built, under construction, consented, or planned in Europe is enough to power 130 million average EU households and provide 13.1% of Europe’s total electricity production.

An EWEA report said the increased electricity will also generate a surge of new jobs — close to 300,000 in the EU offshore wind energy sector by 2030.

The EWEA report, Wind in Our Sails, added areas for growth in offshore wind energy include turbine and turbine component manufacturing as well as substructures, vessels, electrical infrastructure including high voltage subsea cables, and ports.

In a video presentation, Günther Oettinger, the EU’s Energy Commissioner, noted that the offshore wind industry has become a major industrial player.

“Offshore wind represents a powerful domestic answer to Europe’s energy supply and climate challenge,” Oettinger said.

Cost cutting and calls for innovation in the industry were discussed at the opening session of the three-day conference.

Ian Marchant, CEO of SSE Renewables, said that the offshore wind industry is now growing up. Today, with 140 GW online, planned or consented, the industry is entering a new phase. “But we need to be bolder”, Marchant said.

Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, former Prime Minister of Denmark, said “governments should be more ambitious with clear [renewable energy] targets for 2030, financing and planning.”

Both Jan Kjaersgaard, CEO of Siemens wind power, and Mike Winkel, CEO of E.ON climate and renewables, stressed that significant cost reductions in offshore wind energy must be achieved.

Attendees heard that there are large barriers to achieving a sought-after European supergrid – with interconnections between European countries and to offshore wind farms in Europe’s seas.

Another session saw five of offshore wind energy’s leading manufacturers – Alstom, Nordex, Gamesa, Siemens and Vestas – outlining the benefits of their future turbines, with the main differences lying in the generators (direct drive, hybird or gear) and in blade length.

Ports, vessels, turbines and cables are all vital elements of the supply chain that must be boosted in the years to come, attendees at a different session were told.

Financing can still be arranged for expensive offshore wind farm projects despite the ongoing debt crisis, bankers, investors and developers taking part in a panel said.

Sean Klimczak, Managing Director in the Private Equity Group of Blackstone, said he is “relatively optimistic about the opportunities” to raise money for European offshore wind farms.

Agreeing, Jerome Guillet, of Green Giraffe Energy, said there is enough financing money available today for the offshore wind sector. “The market is growing and the money is there for it to continue to grow,” Guillet added.

Jorg Schroder, head of project financing for PNE Wind, a German wind farm developer, said “For us, it was good to meet so many people in one place,” said Schroder. “It’s a well organised conference and exhibition. I can’t see how you could do it better.”

The conference attracted approximately 8,200 participants, featured 23 sessions and more than 480 exhibitors. Media interest was also significant: there were at least 250 online references to the event, three wire agencies and approximately 20 newspapers published stories.

Malgosia Bartosik, EWEA’s Membership and Events Director, was pleased.

“It’s amazing to go around the exhibition and see people doing deals and making business and seeing all the exhibition stands packed,” Bartosik said.

“The feedback showed that the atmosphere was good and you couldn’t really see an industry affected by the financial crisis. Everyone’s very positive about the future of the offshore wind.”