|Energy No one tilts at windmills...|
No one tilts at windmills anymore
by Gabor Heves
When it comes to reducing climate change, the answer could be blowing in the wind.
Wind turbines offer a cleaner, greenhouse-gas-free alternative to traditional means of generating power, and thus can be effective in reducing the human impact on climate change as more Europeans are learning.
So far the majority of progress being made is in Western Europe. The winds of change are, however, starting to sweep through Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), where the coastal areas of South Eastern Europe and the Baltics, and the flat plains of Central Europe, provide excellent sites for power-generating turbines.
Wind energy comes of age
The year 2000 marked a major milestone in Europe's renewable energy sector, as wind energy conversion broke into the mainstream of electricity production, leaving behind its tag of being an "alternative" energy source. In this period, the total European installed wind power capacity exceeded the "magic limit" of 10,000 megawatts (MW), according to the European Wind Energy Association. Especially in windy regions of Germany, Denmark and Spain, penetration levels of wind energy in the overall electricity production basket reportedly reached as high as 30 percent. The annual expansion rate of the European wind turbine market is about 15 percent, and it created more than 30,000 new jobs during the 1990s, the association said.
Last year saw the emergence of ambitious national and European Union-level action plans to increase the share of wind energy in electricity production. Meanwhile, the European Wind Energy Association, along with the European Commission, reported that they significantly increased their existing mid-term European production targets and forecasts, and they now expect 60,000 MW of installed capacity by 2010, and 150,000 MW by 2020.
A clean and viable source of energy
As the experience with thousands of previously installed European wind turbines shows, such units represent relatively little risk to the natural environment and humans. With careful planning, the environmental benefits of these turbines far outweigh their threat to birds or their visual "pollution."
As they become a mature technology, wind turbines are also improving in terms of cost efficiency. One reason is economic: Production numbers and turbine capacities steadily increase, driving prices down. The other factor is government commitment.
Since external costs of non-renewable electricity generation tend to be excluded from electricity prices, almost all European governments have introduced some kind of support for these processes. The most successful of these initiatives seems to be the German model: fixed, preferential purchase prices for electricity generated from renewable energy sources. Such incentives have made the wind sector financially attractive for a large number of private investors.
Because more and more coastal areas are now being taken up by wind turbines, the trend points toward installing turbines off-shore and in other locations. National governments, manufacturers, research institutes and organisations like Green Peace are reported to be working towards installing a major European wind park in the shallow and windy North Sea. This region, known for its oil production, could thus become a major producer of alternative energy.
The other potential growth area for wind turbines is in-land locations, and Central European countries are becoming more and more attractive in this respect. By the year 2000, Austria had installed turbines with more than 60 MW of capacity, according to a report from the Wind Energy Association. This is an excellent example for other Central and Eastern European countries with similar wind regimes. Hungary saw its first wind turbine erected at the end of year 2000, and wind converters are already in production in the Czech Republic, Poland and Romania. The countries of CEE may soon grow as adept as their western counterparts at pulling energy out of the air.
The Bulletin, March 2001