EWEA chief: EU legislation set to boost wind industry

Christian_Kjaer_big.jpg

This article is part of our special report Wind Energy.

The Renewables Directive agreed in December will provide incentives to develop wind energy by forcing new legislation in all 27 member states, Christian Kjaer, chief executive of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), told EURACTIV in an interview.

Christian Kjaer is chief executive of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA).

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here.

The EU negotiated a new directive on the promotion of renewable energies in December, to increase the share of renewables in the EU energy mix by 20% by 2020. Where do you see the position of the wind industry in comparison to other renewables industries?

We have a breakdown of the contributions of different sources of electricity. The 20% target means that we have targets for heating, cooling, electricity and renewables in transport. What the European Commission expects is that 34% of our electricity will need to come from renewable energy sources in 2020. We currently have 16%. 

What needs to be taken into account as well is that of the 16% we have now, ten percentage points are from large hydro, and we can't expand large hydro much more in Europe. So if you look at non-large hydro renewables, you need to increase from currently 6% to 34 minus 10: 24%.

The European Renewable Energy Council, which is an umbrella organisation of renewables industries, has made a breakdown on that, and that shows that wind energy will be the biggest contributor to reaching that target. So that's quite clear. In terms of percentage, the European Commission has made a breakdown – it's not a target, it's just an indication – and they say 12% of our electricity consumption will be covered with wind energy.

Is this an ambitious target?

12% is not very difficult to reach. Basically, we increased wind power capacity by 8.5 GW in 2007. In order to get to the 12%, we need to increase on average in the thirteen-year period 2008 to 2020 by an average increase of 9.5 GW per year. In other words, if we increase by 9.5 GW per year over the next thirteen years, we will have between 12 and 14% of our electricity coming from wind energy. So it's not a huge growth rate that is required to have a significant amount of our electricity coming from wind.

Is this the growth rate you are expecting, or are you going to exceed it?

This was very much in line with our own targets for 2020, which we outlined in our report last year. There we're saying 180 GW, which gets us between 12 and 14%.

These targets were put in place before the passing of the directive. My personal view is that come 2020, wind energy will be above that. And we will revise our targets – probably later in the year – to reflect the passing of the Renewables Directive, because it does provide some investor certainty, which will mean that we will probably increase our targets.

So you are saying that the EU climate package provides incentives for the wind industry?

Absolutely. Basically, what it does is that it forces 27 member states to put in place financial frameworks, frameworks for administrative barriers and frameworks for getting fair access to electricity grids. 

These are the three elements on any legislative framework that you need to have in mind. It's like a chair with three legs. If you remove one of those legs, it's not going to happen. 

All these elements need to be addressed when you want to have a national framework, and together with the national binding target, they form the core of the national legislation that's going to be implemented now via the directive. So absolutely, the directive is probably the most important piece of legislation in the world for our sector.

Do you thing greater grid access is going to be enough to promote wind energy, or will Europe need to develop its electricity grids further to be able to cope with larger amounts of energy from renewables?

There are three steps in the development of wind energy. The first step is just to get access to the grids. We've seen everywhere where we have developed wind energy to a significant amount, like in Spain, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, that just attaching the first wind turbine there was a nightmare because you had to convince the transmission system operator that you were not completely ruining the whole system. So that's the first step in any country's development, just trying to convince people that we are not messing up the power system by connecting a few wind turbines.

Then there's the second step, which is that when you get to a reasonable amount of electricity from wind energy in the system, let's say 10% penetration, depending on each system, you need to change the way you operate your system. 

For instance, there are some requirements in some countries saying that if you're a power producer, you have to forecast how much electricity you're going to deliver 48 hours in advance. There's no technical justification for it. It's just historical because if you are a hydro power station, it's very easy to control how much you're going to deliver. If you're a coal or gas-fired power plant, it's also easy because you can adjust. So whatever your prediction is, it's very likely that you're going to deliver.

For wind energy, it's a bit more complicated if we want to forecast our production two days in advance. So what we are trying to say is that since there is no technical justification from the transmission system operators for knowing this 48 hours in advance – this is what is called the gate closure time – if we can announce this let's say two hours in advance, our prediction two hours ahead is much better than our predictions two days ahead, and then it becomes less of a problem.

So this is an example of when you get a larger share of wind energy, you need to change the rules of how you’re operating the system in order to accommodate larger amounts of wind energy, for instance by reducing the gate closure times.

Then there's a third element when you get to larger penetrations like in Denmark that currently gets 20% of its electricity from wind. You have regions in Northern Germany that get 30-40%, and you also have regions like Navarro in Spain that gets up to 30% of its electricity from wind. There you start having to look at expanding the grid area because you need to have flexibility in the power system in case some production units are turned off. There needs to be some reserve capacity in any power system.

An alternative to building balancing power or reserve capacity is to build an interconnector. The larger the power system is, the less of a problem the variability of wind energy is. And that's why we're pushing very hard for creating greater interconnection in the European Union, because it doesn't matter what an individual wind turbine does, what matters is what all the turbines in the system do collectively.

So the intermittent nature of wind energy is not a great problem in terms of reliable electricity supply?

In fact, what matters is what all the production capacity in a power system does in terms of producing compared to what the demand is. In very general terms, the power sector has been dealing with variable demand from consumers. Demand is going up and down all the time and it's been doing that for a hundred years, and the power system has been developed to cope with that variability in demand. 

Of course the power system can be developed to cope with the variability in supply as well, but you need to change the way you operate the system. But this is no different from the 60s when we started building an enormous amount of nuclear power up to the point where we're today getting 30% of our energy from nuclear power. In order to do that, we had to completely change the way our infrastructure works. The same thing: if we want to have 30, 40, 50% of our electricity coming from wind energy, we need to adapt the infrastructure.

But the point is that there is already a lot of reserve capacity in the power systems in Europe that you can use for wind energy. And until you reach 15-20%, you actually don't need any additional capacity. An alternative to building additional capacity is to interconnect systems so that you get a larger geographical area so that the variations balance out.

I'll give you an example of why the variability is not a wind energy issue like a lot of people want to make it. The whole idea of reserve capacity is already inherent in the system. In Sweden, where 50% of electricity comes from nuclear, I think it was in 2007, within a minute, five of their 10 nuclear reactors were shut down immediately because there were security risks with one of the generators. So they took off within one minute 25% of the entire electricity production in Sweden and the electricity was not cut off from any consumers.

It's just an example showing that any system needs and is designed to cope with the fact that a certain amount of capacity goes offline. In this case, the Swedish power system actually coped with a situation where 25% of their production capacity was removed within one minute. You'll never see that in wind energy. You will  never see a huge amount of electricity going from 2000 MW to zero in one minute. It doesn't happen.

If Sweden can cope with 25% being removed immediately, you could probably replace 25% of productive capacity with wind energy without any problem because there is reserve capacity in the systems and this is what a lot of people don't see. They're saying, "Here's a wind turbine, what happens if the wind stops blowing?" It doesn't matter. What matters is the total production of all the wind turbines in the system. 

First of all, the bigger the geographical area is, the less volatility you'll have because the wind will be likely to blow somewhere within that area. And secondly, you can do a lot with interconnectors. That's why the idea of interconnecting the various European systems and creating a European power grid is something we're working very much towards. It's also a condition for having better competition in the European internal electricity market.

A new study from the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) shows that there are big differences between countries. As all the countries have their own targets for renewables, wind energy would logically provide very different shares of electricity production in the various countries.

Absolutely. What we can see is that Denmark gets 20%, but it's a small country so maybe you're not so impressed by that. In a big country like Spain, they have just come out with figures that show they produced 11% of their electricity last year from wind, and Germany is at a similar penetration level at 10-11% from wind energy, and that's Europe's biggest economy. 

It just goes to show that you can have significant amounts of wind energy in the system without having to be worried about power being cut. The more you integrate the systems, the easier it is to integrate very large shares of wind energy into the system.

Where do the differences between countries come from?

I would say it's the regulatory framework. Denmark started putting together legislation to promote investments in renewables back in the 80s. In the 90s you had Germany and Spain following up. They were the frontrunners and they still are.

In 2001 we had a renewable energy directive. It didn't have mandatory targets. It was voluntary targets, but it still meant that at least in the EU 15 all the countries started putting in place frameworks, legislation promoting not only wind but also other renewables. We're seeing the effects of that now. Countries like the Netherlands and Austria have developed fast, and right now we're seeing enormous growth in Italy, France and the UK. That is a direct effect of the EU legislation passed in 2001. 

So you can say there's a second wave there as these markets are starting to develop, and those markets are replacing some of the market that we are losing as Germany, Denmark and Spain start maturing those markets. So that's a whole second wave, and what we expect with the EU directive that is coming now is firstly to accelerate the development in the second wave, but we're also seeing a third wave of countries that as a result of the conversations about this directive being put in place have also started putting in place frameworks. So you have a third wave of countries waiting out there, like Poland, Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania.

When do you expect to see the results of the new renewables directive?

It can take some time from the legislation being passed in the country until it actually works because there is a learning curve among the administrative authorities, the planning details, the procedures, etc.

Greece is a good example. At some point you needed a permission from 41 different organisations in Greece in order to be allowed to put up a wind farm, including the national television station, and they each had a veto on it. So that's an example of an administrative barrier that is just impossible to overcome.
It has eased now, and these are the three core elements of the renewables directive: addressing the financial framework, but leaving it up to the member states which mechanism they will choose, addressing fair access to electricity grids, and the streamlining of administrative barriers. Combining those with the mandatory renewables target means that each member state will have to put in place targets and legislation and tell the Commission, "This is how we intend to meet our targets". And if the Commission is not happy with it, they will send it back to the member states and say, "No, this is not good enough".

It will have an enormous effect but not tomorrow. The second wave we're seeing is probably the effect of the 2001 directive. That is starting to work now because it's been in place for three or four years. We'll see that in a third wave as a result of this renewables directive that was passed in December. 

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe