Wind energy in cold climates to increase by 72%

» By | Published 17 Jun 2013

There is huge potential for wind energy in the coldest regions of the globe, a new report from the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland suggests.

The VTT cites the latest forecasts, which show that between 45 and 50 gigawatts of wind energy will be built in cold climates by 2017. This would mean an increase of as much as 72% since the end of 2012 and investments amounting to approximately €75 billion.

VTT has conducted what it claims is the first ever study into the feasibility of building wind turbines across the globe in areas where cold climate and icy conditions place special demands on wind turbine technology. In addition to Scandinavia and Canada, these areas also include parts of Central Europe, the US and China. Cold climates represent encouraging potential for wind energy companies because of their sparse population and favourable wind conditions, says the centre.

“This is a huge opportunity,” says VTT research scientist Tomas Wallenius. “We already have the tools to harness the potential of cold climate wind energy cost-effectively.”

The centre admits that there are still problems to be solved. For example, turbine blades are highly susceptible to icing, and this can cause production losses of 3–10% per year. But losses can be reduced with the help of anti-icing systems.

Various companies have already introduced technologies to help their turbines function in cold climates. Siemens, for instance, offers a de-icing system whereby electrical heating elements are integrated into the rotor blades and switched on when necessary to melt the ice and allow the machine to continue operating smoothly.

Enercon also has a de-icing system using hot air in the blades. The company said last year that all new models will have this as an option.

And when Nordex launched its Delta turbine series earlier this year, the company said that one of its key target markets was cold climate regions. It announced a cold-climate version of its turbines with an extended operating range of temperatures down to -30 degrees Celsius and an anti-icing system that heats the aerodynamically most important surfaces of the rotor blades.

Cold climates is also one of the categories for which wind energy developers may submit a demand for funding from the NER300, the EU’s programme for innovative demonstration projects for renewable energy and carbon capture and storage. EU member states must submit the projects that they have selected as being most eligible for these funds to the European Investment Bank and the European Commission, by 3 July 2013.