Winds Over European Waters Harnessed for Electricityby Staff
Environmental News Network, December 17, 2001
The winds blow fast and cold across the waters of northern Europe, and power hungry Europeans are not about to let them go to waste. Offshore wind energy is set for a dramatic explosion in northern Europe but its potential is under threat from proposed cuts in European Union research grants, according to the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA).
At a conference about offshore wind prospects held in Brussels this week, the industry association forecast an increase in installed capacity from just 86 megawatts (MW) today to 50,000 MW by 2020.
By then, experts predict, energy generated by wind turbines placed out in coastal waters would represent one-third of all European wind power. At a time when security of energy supply and action to tackle climate change are high on the agenda, it is not surprising that there is such interest in offshore wind energy.
This is a good situation for the EWEA whose task is to strengthen wind energy's position in the market place.
"European seas present a huge resource for indigenous, emissions free electricity generation," the industry association said just before the conference.
EWEA cites studies that estimate the offshore wind energy potential of Europe could be as large as 3,000 terrawatt hours of electricity per year, an amount equivalent to the total electricity consumption in the 15 nation European Union.
Projects already in the pipeline are expected to increase capacity to 5,000 MW by 2010. A megawatt is enough electricity to power 1,000 typical homes. But the association and other industry groups claimed that a new European Union research framework proposal currently under discussion by governments could cut the budget for wind energy by up to 40 percent and jeopardize progress.
During the conference, Belgian Energy Minister Olivier Deleuze used his keynote address to announce government plans to support wind farm construction off Belgium's North Sea coast. The draft plan combines elements of Germany's financial support system and the green certificates method used in The Netherlands.
Offshore wind energy generators would receive green certificates for the electricity they produce and utilities would be obliged to buy them in amounts equal to two percent of the electricity they supply by 2002.
That figure would rise to six percent by 2006. Fines would apply to energy companies for not acquiring enough certificates to cover the obligation starting next year.
Generators will also be able to sell green certificates to the grid operator at a fixed rate per kilowatt-hour. The operator would then sell the certificates on the open market.
In April, the United Kingdom granted 18 offshore wind farm developers leases to build on the sea bed. Each site would typically have 30 wind turbines producing three megawatts each. The turbines would be about 200 feet tall and about three miles offshore.
The British Wind Energy Association estimates the 18 offshore wind farms could supply the annual electricity needs of more than 1.1 million households. In July, wind energy in Europe got a political boost when the European Parliament voted to promote electricity from renewable energy sources.
Dr. Klaus Rave, president of the European Wind Energy Association said the new law is a historic landmark for the wind energy industry.
"For the first time the EU, after having a long history of steel, coal and nuclear, acknowledges that renewable energies are a vital player in the international energy market," he said. "Now we have to create a stable investment climate for sustainable development."
The European Wind Energy Association represents manufacturers, utilities, project developers, research and development institutes, and financiers - over 15,000 members.
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