Life is full of surprises. An old colleague from years back contacted me some weeks ago and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. Starting January 2nd, I will be based in Bangkok and steering the Asian wind business of an international consulting & engineering group Pöyry.
I’m excited to take the challenge and start again a new phase in my career. Within the next two decades, the decisive battle against climate change will be fought in Asia; the “trigonometric equation” of growing population, growing economy and the energy transition needs to be solved, and there’s no time to waste. If we fail in Asia, it will be pretty much irrelevant what the rest of the world will do in terms of the climate.
Meanwhile, recognis will continue its business in a somewhat transformed shape; Dr. Hannele Holttinen will be your primary contact at recognis starting January 1st 2019, and the main focus of our services will shift towards power system and market integration of variable renewable generation. Hannele is, besides my partner in life and business, one of the leading experts worldwide in shaping of systems and markets to better cope with high shares of variable production. Hannele will answer your e-mail enquiries from the address hannele.holttinen(at)recognis.fi.
Winds of change are blowing again, and we’re definitely building windmills instead of walls. See you in Bangkok, in Finland, or somewhere else!
To celebrate its 30-year anniversary, Finnish Wind Power Association is publishing a series of Blog articles where various wind power professionals are looking back to how things evolved in Finnish wind business and in the Association. This is an English translation of the fourth part covering the years 1997 to 1999. The original Blog (in Finnish) is published at http://tuulivoima30.fi/
After mid-1990s, the worst years of the all-time recession were over in Finland and companies gradually got back their trust in a better future. The Finnish wind power industry also began to gain momentum, and the promising progress continued towards the turn of the millennium. In the Wind Power Association, the workload was mainly carried by the association’s board of directors – for which it was sometimes difficult to fill up the seats in the Board.
Esa Holttinen, who has made his entire career within wind business and who at that time was a Development Manager at Pöyry, recalls the end of 1990s as the first real upswing in Finnish wind power construction. The energy investment support scheme of the Ministry of Trade and Industry (KTM), which entered into force in February 1996, encouraged the construction of wind power projects with a 40% investment aid. Thanks to this, it became feasible to invest in the wind sector, and wind turbines finally began to pop up in different parts of the country after the preceding silent years.
Spatial planning processes and MW-size turbines
Holttinen regards the spatial planning processes carried out by Regional Councils during the mid- and late 1990s as an essential foundation for the future wind power development in Finland.
“Pöyry prepared a number of wind power related background studies for regional plans, in those years especially for regional councils of Northern Ostrobothnia and Lapland. The study results ended up as site reservations for wind farms in the regional plans, and indeed many of the wind projects that were built in Northern Finland were built on those sites. Still after a number of years, new wind farms continued to be built in locations shown in these early studies”, Holttinen says.
Wind power technology developed rapidly during the decade, and in 1999 the first MW-class wind turbines were built in Finland. They were installed in Reposaari, Pori, for a wind farm consisting of eight 1.0 MW turbines. At that time, the project was not only the largest in Finland, but possibly also one of the fastest-built.
“It is interesting how much faster the project cycle was back then. For example, feasibility studies of the Reposaari wind farm were conducted during spring 1998, the project company Suomen Hyötytuuli Oy was established in the same summer, and the Turbine Purchase Agreement was signed in December. The inauguration of the park was celebrated in July 1999 in connection with Pori Jazz festival. Everything, including the entire permitting process, was completed in a little more than one year. Things looked pretty much easier those days”, Holttinen laughs.
Overall, things went ahead quite quickly in 1999, and Finland’s installed wind power capacity doubled in one year. Megawatt-class wind turbines were built that year in Pori, Kotka, Oulunsalo and Uusikaupunki. A total of 23 new wind turbines were installed. Unfortunately however, after a record year, the construction stopped due to lack of political will.
Development stumbles into a policy change
“At the end of the 1990s, the wind power sector was on a promising growth track, but alas, the prospects for continued growth were lost in politics. In 2000, the investment grants were cut from the 40% level to 25%. This was just enough to destroy the financial feasibility of investments, and that was the end of story. It was particularly annoying since the energy companies were busy surveying sites and investment opportunities all over Finland. All those plans were now frozen, and we missed the first real opportunity for growth in the wind industry”, says Holttinen.
According to Holttinen, the support cut was an easy choice for the politicians because they were lacking faith in wind power. “Wind power wasn’t taken seriously yet. Its potential was belittled and, on the other hand, its negative impacts exaggerated. We heard, among other things, allegations that 10 percent of wind power in the power mix would equal to having the entire coast full of wind turbines – one for every 100 meters”, Holttinen laughs.
The consequences of a short-term support policy were regrettable for the wind power sector, as the domestic market did not take off after the promising start. Over the following three years, only one new wind turbine was installed. “If the upswing of the late 1990s would have continued, the growth seen in the 2010s could have taken place at least five years earlier. The national target of 500 MW by 2010 would have been easily achievable in this case”, Holttinen sums up. At the end, the target was missed by hundreds of megawatts.
Holttinen says at that time the Association worked hard to get more political weight. “The association was often not heard, and its messages did not have much impact on political arenas. You had to get your messages through by using other channels, for example research institutes and big companies. We worked hard to raise the profile of the Association in order to highlight its status as a trustworthy expert organization.”
The Finnish wind power technology expertise was strong already in the 1990s. Gear boxes, generators, tower elements and blade materials etc. were imported from Finland. Despite of the miniature home market, the component suppliers were able to maintain their share of the world market. For wind turbines installed in Finland, the investors often sought to source as many Finnish components as possible, and some of the projects achieved a remarkable level of local content. Finnish technology created back then lives and breathes even today.
Kemijoki Arctic Technology was one such example with its blade heating system. “They had a concrete business plan for building wind power in Lapland, but in a business restructuring the wind power construction activities were transferred from Kemijoki to Fortum. Fortum’s construction plans, however, dried up, and so did the commercialization of the blade heating technology”, Holttinen recalls. But today, a start-up company Wicetec continues to finetune and sell the blade heating technology jointly developed by Kemijoki and VTT back in the 1990s, and this technology is now used in many parts of the world.
Co-operation between companies active in wind business was a major driver in the industry back then and, in order to better engage and better utilize their know-how, the Association founded a discussion forum for the companies, open for members and non-members alike. “There was a clear need among industrial companies and energy producers for closer cooperation and improving their knowledge base. At the same time, the Association was keen to find out ways to better serve its existing member companies and get new ones”, says Holttinen who coordinated the network.
International networking – a key driver
The members of the Association’s Board of Directors actively participated in international wind events, as it was considered crucial for the industry to introduce a broader perspective in the Finnish energy debate. The Association did a great deal of work to educate Finnish policy makers and businesses of the goals and building pace of wind power in other European countries.
“Finnish energy policy was relatively isolated those days. It was extremely important to point out to other countries to prove that wind power is not just some local whim of the Association; on the contrary it’s being built throughout the world in increasing volumes, and other countries have ambitious political targets for wind”, Holttinen sums up.
Important news from overseas were brought to Finland of the market growth surpassing all expectations; the European Wind Power Association EWEA, for example, had to repeatedly upgrade its market forecasts as previous forecasts were surpassed time after time.
If forecasting of international market figures was difficult, it has not been any easier to foretell the growth of domestic wind power in the long run. Holttinen remembers having said in several occasions that his own career would certainly be completed by the day 10 percent of Finnish electricity is produced by wind power. “We will reach the 10% share quite soon, but my retirement can still wait”, Holttinen laughs.
Esa Holttinen has made almost his entire career, starting early 1990s, in wind business. He has acted e.g. as the developer and coordinator of Pöyry Group’s international wind energy business and as the launcher and leader of the wpd Group’s business in Finland. Today Esa is running his own consulting firm Recognis Oy. In the Finnish Wind Power Association, Esa has been active through years and decades as a member of the Board, in committees and working groups, and in the editorial board of the Association’s magazine.
Offshore wind turbines are growing fast. MHI Vestas officially launched their 9.5 MW turbine with 164 m rotor diameter in June at the WindEurope Offshore Conference. For many of the participants, this was a bit of a disappointment, since they were hoping to get news of even bigger turbines. The two candidates to release such news were Siemens Gamesa and Senvion. But both were reluctant to discuss any details of their future turbine types – if any. Senvion told they are working on “something bigger”, but no dates neither exact figures were mentioned.
Husum Wind Fair 2017 will be held next week. Rumors are already circling around whether one of the two companies will show up there with a new turbine model having a double-digit generator nameplate capacity. There are grounds for such expectations, especially after Siemens Gamesa’s recent decision to integrate Adwen within the group’s offshore operations. The Adwen 8 MW prototype turbine with 180 m wing span is now in operation, and it’s pretty obvious that 8 MW is not the optimal nameplate figure for a 180-m diameter offshore turbine; the MW-figure should rather be in the range of 10 to 12 MW. And it’s equally obvious that to keep – or win back – the pole position for the coming sales negotiations, Siemens Gamesa should publish something clearly bigger than 9.5 MW, and they should do so pretty soon. If not in Husum, then perhaps in their new Strategic Plan, to be announced on 15 November.
In the latest German offshore auction earlier this year, DONG and EnBW made their winning bids based on the assumed financial figures for 13…15 MW turbines, which they expect to be on the market by 2025. Obviously, experienced offshore heavyweights won’t make their bets without having a close dialogue with the leading turbine suppliers. So, although the suppliers don’t admit it, they already have the next generation of even bigger turbines on their drawing boards.
Doubling the turbine nominal capacity makes a huge difference for the construction and operation of offshore wind farms. A turbine twice as powerful does not cost twice as much. And, more importantly, although it needs a bigger foundation, the foundation will definitely not cost twice as much. For sure, bigger turbines need bigger installation vessels with higher daily rates – but the number of installations will be halved. The result: shorter installation times per MW, more manageable weather risks, and all in all, more degrees of freedom in the construction planning. Also the number of service visits per MW will be halved, which makes a huge difference in demanding offshore conditions: Easier service planning, less downtime, and thus more kWhs per installed MW. And many, many more upsides for the project economy.
Bigger turbines can be built cost-efficiently in deeper waters, and with an increased spacing between turbines, the micrositing can be improved in terms of wake losses, soil conditions, and environmental constraints. For ice infested waters, the increasing turbine size is especially good news: as the wind loads increase, the significance of ice loads on the foundation cost decreases. Areas with more severe ice conditions located further offshore will suddenly become viable for construction. This in turn should make the public acceptance less of an issue and could thereby decrease the permitting risks.
But there are also challenges: Matching the time span of project development with the speed and uncertainty of technology development is a tricky task. How should you plan and permit your project, a process taking minimum five years and possibly up to ten years, when you don’t know how big – and thus, how many – turbines will be built once the permits are finally in place? You don’t want to end up having permits for a turbine that was phased out from production two years ago – a scenario which e.g. the French offshore developers may be facing in the future.
New offshore markets are opening up in the USA, China, India, etc. With 10 to 15 MW turbines, the zero-subsidy market is now within reach. Offshore wind may become a global and truly commercial market in 5 to 10 years. But to succeed, developers must first overcome the planning dilemma. Spatial planning and impact assessment processes should be made in a flexible manner to manage the uncertainties related to size and siting of individual turbines. Stakeholder dialogue is the key: all involved authorities and specialists should work together towards the common goal – even when shooting a moving target.
For a market characterized by long lead times from initial planning to implementation, technical revolution is not just a blessing but also a challenge. Size matters, and unfortunately not only for the better.
…And I don’t mean the snow, Aurora Borealis and Santa Claus. I mean wind power. Last week, the Finnish government published the new national energy and climate strategy, setting the targets for 2030 and a vision for 2050. And I’ll help you to recognise why it could be good news for you.
The main headings of the strategy are what has by now become “the usual stuff”: getting rid of fossil fuels, increasing the share of renewables, promoting electric vehicles etc. So you’d guess this paper is good stuff for wind – until you take a closer look. The strategy relies heavily on bioenergy, and more specifically on biofuels. So heavily that the government plan is criticised for endangering both the Finnish biodiversity and the forest industry – our two greatest national treasures after the collapse of Nokia’s mobile phone business.
Regarding wind power, the strategy is unambitious at best, and close to hostile at worst: There will be a new, “technology neutral” auction system for promoting investments in power generation from renewables, but the goal is only for 2 TWh increase in annual production, and the system will only run until 2020. After that: complete silence – a peculiar thing as such for a strategy setting goals for 2030. The government namely believes that after 2020 wind power will no longer need any state support. But the government also thinks that despite of wind power becoming competitive, it’s share in the Finnish energy mix will not increase by 2030. So it’s competitive but nobody wants to invest in it – funny, isn’t it?
Also, the auction system will not be started just like that: first, the “health effects of wind power need to be thoroughly studied”. This sentence in the strategy paper is one of the greatest achievements of the “True Finns”, a populist party now in the government coalition for the first time (and for the last, as some would add). Rumours of “the wind turbine syndrome” are spreading wildly in the Finnish social media, and True Finns are both planting seeds and harvesting the crop.
According to an expert study recently conducted by National Institute for Health and Welfare, a few per cent of the population living close to Finnish wind farms actually suffer from noise. A huge number of people say they suffer from symptoms such as headache, dizziness and heart problems – and still, these figures are exactly similar to those living in areas with no wind farms around. But here’s the beef: About 20 % of the population living around wind farms say they are worried of the possible health impacts of wind turbines. And this exactly is the target group for True Finns. Never mind the facts, this is politics!
Rumours of Wind Turbine Syndrome spreading like wildfire, unambitious government, no official targets beyond 2020… so why would this be the perfect time to enter the market? That’s exactly why: Thousands of megawatts of projects in the pipeline that are almost ready for construction, some extremely frustrated developers who’d be glad to exit or partner up – and the next elections coming in less than 2.5 years from now. The next government will reformulate the 2030 energy strategy for sure – and this time without True Finns, if you ask me. At that point, the market value of ready developed projects will rocket in a nanosecond.
I don’t say it’s now or never. But if you have patience to wait and finetune your assets for two extra years before getting return on your investment, I believe you can make some pretty good shopping right now.
Three press releases by two major offshore wind farm owners and operators totally surprised the industry during the past few months. First, DONG Energy came out on 5th of July with the news that it had won the public auction for Borssele 1 and 2 wind farms (2 times 350 MW) with an all-time record low bid of 72.7 EUR per MWh for a 15-year contract with the Netherlands’ Ministry of Economic Affairs.
The smoke had barely dissolved when Vattenfall released the news on 12th of September of winning the Danish Near Shore Tender with 64 EUR per MWh for 13 years. The tender was for two wind farms of 350 MW total capacity on the west coast of Jutland.
And last week, on 9th of November, Vattenfall made it again – this time winning the auction for the Danish part of the huge Kriegers Flak shoal in the Baltic Sea. The offshore wind industry members had hard time believing their eyes when they saw the latest Vattenfall figures: the 600 MW wind farm investment should be covered – hopefully with a decent profit to the owner – with a mere 49.9 EUR/MWh income!
All three projects should be up and running in 2020, and they will be built with the next-generation turbines in the 8 MW size range. The above stated cost figures don’t include the offshore substations and cables to mainland. But even so, they are shocking numbers compared to what the industry is used to.
Offshore wind has traditionally been seen as one of the more costly and less mature branches of the renewables business. Since the early experiments of the 1990’s, offshore wind farm construction and operation have been relying on lofty support from the taxpayers. The growth of turbines and project sizes was hoped to bring the costs down, but for a number of years the cost curve was stubbornly pointing upwards, to everybody’s disappointment and frustration.
It seemed that a number of unfavourable factors more than compensated for the potential savings brought by the growing volumes and learning-by-doing. These included the increasing water depths and ever longer distances to coastline and construction hubs, as well as the contractors’, insurers’ and lenders’ policies of strict risk mitigation – meaning higher margins and safety margins on margins.
While the modest sized nearshore experiments of the 1990’s and first years of 2000’s were built on shallow waters and with project structures mainly copied from the onshore wind power industry, the “next wave” of offshore wind farm construction was totally different: Water depths of 40 meters, sea fetch of 100 km, and project setups borrowed from the offshore oil and gas industry. Needless to say, offshore oil and gas have a totally different risk profile to that of onshore wind. The result: remuneration levels approaching 200 EUR/MWh, and raising eyebrows within the political and financing circles.
Starting around 2011-12, cost reduction was gradually recognised as the only long term survival strategy for the business. In 2014, DNV-GL published their “Offshore Wind – A Manifesto for Cost Reduction”, declaring “a war on cost” and summing up a number of previously launched public and industry initiatives on turning the cost curve back to where it should be pointing – towards Southeast.
Earlier this year, IEA Wind Task 26 published their study on the future cost and technology trends of on- and offshore wind, based on the survey of 163 World’s foremost experts. According to the experts’ expectations, the LCOE of fixed-bottom offshore wind should decrease 30 % from the 2014 baseline level of 127 EUR/MWh by 2030. But now, after the latest press releases from DONG and Vattenfall, it seems the industry is heading far beyond the 2030 cost reduction target already by 2020!
Didn’t the experts see it coming? Do DONG and Vattenfall know something the rest of us don’t? It’s highly unlikely they have miscalculated their numbers – after all, they are among the most experienced players on the market.
Many smaller companies are now understandably worried of the long term impacts the shockingly low bid prices could have on the market. If the cost targets are not met, how can it be explained to politicians? And if they are met, how can it be explained to project finance providers who are used to much higher remuneration levels? Will there be any space left for mid-sized investors in the market, or will the ones with the thickest purse take it all? And while players like DONG and Vattenfall can certainly benefit from their big pipelines and purchase power in the price war, could they also voluntarily accept some losses from a key project, if this would help them to push opponents out of the boxing ring? Will the winner take it all – even if winning means having some losses?
Offshore wind will be getting less expensive, for sure. And it has to. But how fast, and how low, can it go from today’s level? The supply chain shouldn’t be squeezed too tight, the lenders must get their money back, and the owners must stay confident. DONG and Vattenfall should know what they are doing. If they don’t, who does? After a few years we will all know if things went as planned. In the meanwhile, let’s keep our fingers crossed and try to sleep well.