The Nordsee Ost project is scheduled to start operating in 2013 – is everything going to plan and will the wind farm start operating on schedule?
Due to the grid connection delay we unfortunately had to adjust and optimise our original construction schedule for our offshore wind project Nordsee Ost. However, since autumn last year we have been installing the so-called jacket foundations. And the turbine installation is planned to start next year.
Paul Coffey, COO RWE Innogy
What are the main challenges you have encountered during implementation of the project?
The delay of the grid connection belongs to the most important challenges for our project. That´s why we really welcomed the decision taken by the German Government at the end of last year to close some crucial legal loopholes in regards to a liability and a binding planning regime. These amendments within the German Energy Industry Act are necessary preconditions to enable further investments in the development of offshore wind farms in Germany. For example, it is a big step forward that from now on a realisation schedule has to be agreed early on with the grid operator and potential delays or deviations from this schedule have to be communicated immediately to the other party. This will certainly create more transparency and planning security for all parties involved.
Is the current level of technological research and development sufficient to ensure that technology keeps pace with the requirements of the industry, or have you encountered a lag between available technology and project requirements?
The offshore wind industry in Europe has made significant progress over the last few years. However, as an industry we are right in the middle of a very interesting process of leaving the pioneer phase and entering the industrial stage. R&D activities are still strongly needed and key to bring costs down, standardise processes on a European level like health and safety issues and to mitigate environmental risks during the construction of offshore wind farms. At RWE Innogy, we are committed to all these areas. For example, in 2012 we undertook a field trial together with partners in the German Baltic Sea, testing various innovative noise mitigation systems that are intended to limit the spread of piling noise during foundation installations. Furthermore our German offshore wind project “Innogy Nordsee 1” has been submitted into the EU New Entrants Reserve programme NER300. This financing instrument, managed jointly by the European Commission, the European Investment Bank and Member States provides us with a special R&D fund to improve the technical availability and performance of multi-megawatt turbines as well as to test innovative foundation structures and noise mitigation systems.
Has the Nordsee Ost project itself made any contribution to innovative advancements in the wind energy sector?
Back in 2009, we were one of the first companies that commissioned the construction of two special offshore installation vessels. Both vessels are now being used for our projects Nordsee Ost and Gwynt y Môr in the UK. It was not least due to our investments in the construction of these offshore installation vessels that many companies were encouraged to follow our example and build comparable vessels, so that today the amount of offshore special equipment and services available on the market has improved significantly. Furthermore the European Union is providing up to € 50 million of funding for the realisation of Nordsee Ost as one of its lighthouse projects in the field of renewable energies. The financial support is granted under the European Energy Programme for Recovery.
The aims of the European Wind Initiative include improving the competitiveness of wind energy technologies and facilitating grid integration of wind power. Based on your experience has wind energy technology become more competitive, and how do you view the current level of grid integration?
Beside all other aspects mentioned like cost reduction throughout the supply chain, health and safety, new logistics and infrastructure concepts, grid connection and integration is by far the most urgent and challenging issue not only for the offshore wind industry but for the whole renewable sector. In Germany the grid connection situation is somehow special because the distance to the shore is wider than in most other European countries due to environmental restrictions. But with upcoming projects in the UK which are equally far offshore and even bigger than the German projects, the need for offshore substations, export cables and high voltage direct current transmission systems will increase significantly. The timely delivery of those components is essential, but I am sure that the supply chain is able to overcome this bottleneck which at the moment causes some delays in Germany and additional costs that hampers the extension of offshore wind. In the long run we have to have a grid system that is able to balance wind power fluctuations by using storable energy from hydropower plants for example or quick starting and highly efficient gas power stations from various North Sea littoral states. However, this pan-European approach certainly needs a lot of staying power.
What further steps can be taken to achieve these aims?
It is vital that the transformation of offshore wind towards a large scale industry succeeds over the next years. Only then we can realise the necessary cost reduction and become competitive with other sources of energy. All parties involved like regulators, certifiers, developers, utilities, grid operators, logistic companies, port operators, etc. need to work very closely together in order to achieve this goal.
Wind energy is set to be a leading power technology by 2050 – what do you see as the main obstacles to this scenario?
There are two main obstacles from my point of view. Firstly, the extension of the grid systems on- and offshore needs to keep pace with the extension of wind farms and other sorts of fluctuating energy generation. Secondly, onshore wind and even more importantly offshore wind must have a stable and reliable framework to become a cornerstone of Europe´s energy supply. Any significant change in the support mechanism on a short term basis can create uncertainty among potential investors followed by an unnecessary hiatus in the realisation of projects. That would jeopardise a lot of progress that the wind industry has achieved over recent years.