With the dust now settled on a fascinating WindEurope 2022 conference in Bilbao this month, Streem’s Commercial Manager Eoin Ferry discusses some of the major topics that generated excitement during the conference.
Unsurprisingly, energy security dominated the chatter in Bilbao, as it has dominated headlines around the world in the first few months of 2022. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and subsequent geopolitical fallout has had a major impact on energy security in Western Europe, and discourse surrounding the role that renewable energy can play as we move forward has been widespread.
Back in March, the European Commission launched REPowerEU - its roadmap for ending the bloc’s reliance on Russian natural gas imports. While REPowerEU places a strong emphasis on diversifying gas supply channels (for example increasing imports of LNG), and improving energy efficiency to reduce demand for fossil fuels, wind, solar and other renewable technologies are also at the core of the plan, not only from a power generation perspective, but also in the production of green hydrogen, which is seen as a key fuel to replace natural gas in the coming years.
Other factors are expected to play a role - just this week a joint letter was signed by Breakthrough Energy, the European Association for Storage of Energy - EASE, Solar Power Europe, and Wind Europe that called on the European Commission to acknowledge the importance of energy storage technologies as part of the REPowerEU plan. With recent months dominated by volatile energy prices, this call for stability and flexibility-focused solutions such as new storage technologies appears wise, as we seek to manage a difficult transition away from legacy energy sources and systems.
Further highlighting the influence of Russia’s recent actions, the UK’s new Energy Strategy published last week has energy security firmly at its centre. The plan contains a commitment to phase out Russian fuels by the end of this year, and an overall vision of a 40% reduction in gas consumption by 2030. Touted to help fill the resulting gap in energy is a big ramp-up in offshore wind development around the island nation, which already leads Europe in installed capacity offshore. However while WindEurope have applauded the country’s ambition on offshore, the organisation did describe the Strategy’s lack of focus on onshore development to be ‘disappointing’, particularly given the fact that it is a cheaper way to harness wind energy.
Overall, there appears to be a boost in momentum behind European wind and solar as a result of the Russian invasion, as the continent seeks to ensure a stable and affordable supply of energy moving forward.
Offshore wind is surging in popularity at the moment, as evidenced by the range of discussions on the topic during the Bilbao conference, and the array of impressive technological innovations on show in the exhibition area. Indeed a number of major partnership agreements between project developers were announced during the conference - such as Equinor & Naturgy committing to exploring offshore wind in Spain, and Ørsted & Repsol agreeing to develop floating offshore projects together in the coming years. Just this week France installed its first ever offshore turbine off the coast of Saint Nazaire, and has committed to 40GW of offshore development by 2050. These deals underline the fact that the industry recognises the huge potential in offshore wind, and are keen to get going.
Additionally, these agreements highlight the incredible scope for collaboration among the entire European renewables sector, not only in offshore wind but clearly in onshore, solar, and other technologies. The commercial landscape in Europe has never been better for governments, project developers, financers, hardware innovators and software service companies like Streem to join forces to develop and operate clean, reliable energy projects around the continent. Indeed, a statement underlining this sentiment was signed at WindEurope by 30 parties including governments, TSOs, leading wind energy companies and NGOs - pledging a commitment to work together to accelerate the development of fixed and floating offshore wind and offshore grids - from a technological, regulatory and commercial perspective. The same motivation is undoubtedly there for onshore, solar, hydro and other technologies, which is great to see.
Finally, another hot topic in Bilbao was an emerging model for renewable energy source (RES) plants that has the potential to revolutionise the sector in terms of cost, reliability and sustainability. This is the ‘hybrid’ RES power plant - a production complex that contains wind, solar and storage technology on the same location with a single grid connection.
The benefits of designing production plants like this are many and varied. At a basic level, the intermittent nature of wind and solar generation introduces inherent unreliability in terms of production levels. However these two energy sources are complementary - wind power production tends to be higher at night while solar production is obviously higher during the day. Combining these two sources on the same grid connection allows the developer to harness this complementary nature in terms of production levels. Adding a storage facility into the mix ensures that any excess energy is not wasted, and helps to keep the arrangement in balance. On top of this, sharing of the various infrastructure surrounding wind and solar plants - whether it be access roads, cables or substations - reduces both the environmental impact of the project and the capex and opex required.
Clearly, integrated projects such as these would need to be accompanied by excellent data management services, in terms of monitoring and forecasting, to ensure smooth operation of the plant and maximise production and profitability.
Smart solutions such as these hybrid plants will be necessary to propel the European renewable energy sector forward, as it continues to develop a secure, affordable and clean way to power the continent.