The World's #1 Renewable Energy Network for News, Information, and Companies.
Untitled Document

Innovation Key to Maintaining UK Distributed Wind Success

Before we begin to address the challenges inherent in the British medium-scale wind industry, it will make sense to develop a wider picture of the sector as things stand.

Make no mistake; the UK’s small to medium wind market sector is in good health. Combine solid wind resources with a positive FiT-supported regulatory framework and you have an appealing recipe for attracting manufacturers from overseas. Proven growth and an already developed supply chain of distributors, planners, developers and operations and maintenance (O&M) providers can only sweeten the deal.

The strength of the UK distributor market, in particular, is an important asset to medium-sized manufacturers seeking to expand and capitalise on favourable conditions in the sector. Thanks to a strong distribution network, the whole of the UK can be provided with a personal – and localised - service.

These are significant benefits and a major draw for a manufacturer of medium-sized turbines. Small and medium-scale distributed wind markets elsewhere in Europe, with the exception of Italy, have not received the necessary financial support to reach this level of development. In Spain, recent policies have all but killed the industry for the foreseeable future.

Unfortunately, some of this political and regulatory uncertainty remains in the UK, and, despite the positive growth of the distributed wind sector, there are still a number of obstacles, financial and political, that must be overcome before the market can really achieve its potential.

The sector has historically seen a lack of the right kind of investment. Returns on wind energy technology are not typically fast and a long-term view is required. Regrettably, the majority of early stage investors, such as venture capitalists and growth equity firms — the kind of backers that these projects need to get up and running — do not share this perspective.

A short-term investor focus, fuelled partially by the recession, has ultimately led to greater urgency on behalf of the manufacturer to return a profit or even become cash flow positive.

When the long and demanding certification process — no bad thing, I might add — is brought into the equation, the result is a scenario where companies have had to rush to market with more traditional but proven technology. In doing so, they have reduced design and testing phases to a bare minimum to ensure that products are delivered on schedule.

The overall picture is that technological innovation is not being promoted in the current environment — instead stakeholders are focusing on shorter-term gains. The UK government needs to pay more attention to negative trends such as this. The way in which it is dealing with the commercial practice of turbine de-rating, for example, is not really helping the manufacturers of smaller, technologically advanced turbines.

It is common knowledge that certain manufacturers and developers have been limiting their older, larger machines in order to take advantage of more profitable FiT brackets. Regulators have, however, failed to react. The 1.5-100-kW segment is being awarded only slightly better tariffs but has a substantially more onerous degression system than the 100-500-kW bracket above it.

So what can a turbine manufacturer do when faced with these key market inefficiencies? 

The answer, as simplistic as it may sound, is to approach them head-on. It does not take long to identify the missing ingredient.

Put simply, innovation is key. If the success of UK small and medium wind is to continue, manufacturers will have to buck the trend, take a risk and start to deliver products that bring more to the customer. We need to focus, for instance, on the development of products that can be incorporated into hybrid solutions with other technologies, products that can be installed off-grid, or that can handle the increasing requirements of local grid infrastructure.

Of course, as we’ve seen, attracting the investment required to do so will be a challenge. However generating investor confidence will only become easier as innovation starts to become the norm. 

If manufacturers can start to bring some of the efficiency and security of the large-scale wind market to the small and medium sector, we should encourage investors to adopt a longer-term perspective that will help to promote further crucial innovation in future.

In technological terms, this means devoting as long as possible to the research and development phases, incorporating some of the proven advancements of larger turbines and providing operations and maintenance services to rival those of the bigger manufacturers. 

For the first of these, manufacturers must create a stable environment for the development of their turbin, and take a necessary risk and resist the pressure to rush their products into the market. In doing so, manufacturers will have time to produce more efficient machines and pick and choose from some of the technological advancements that have been most successful in today’s large-scale turbines. Engineers on our nED100 project, for example, saw the benefit of eliminating hydraulics and thus avoiding costly gearbox failures and oil leakages.

And it is not just by borrowing proven technology from bigger turbines that manufacturers can enhance efficiency; we can also learn a thing or two about O&M from the large end of the sector. The ability to perform a detailed remote diagnosis is vital when ensuring smooth O&M practice and avoiding those endless phone calls with the customer trying to figure out what the problem is. 

Current leading small and medium technologies fall short on the remote diagnosis of faults because of the lack of electronic components in their design. Newer technologies, where most if not all of the components are electric, permit thorough monitoring and control and significantly enhance a manufacturer’s O&M offering.

These are the kinds of changes that are required to bring a breath of fresh air to the FiT-supported distributed wind sector. By introducing innovation and a long-term perspective to a market traditionally reliant on old technology — typically held back by a focus on short-term gains — small and medium manufacturers can consolidate and maintain the growth that the sector has seen in recent years.

Lead image: Lightbulb via Shutterstock

Untitled Document

RELATED ARTICLES

Solar Beats Gas in Colorado

Christopher Martin, Bloomberg SunEdison Inc., the biggest clean-energy developer, began construction on a Colorado solar farm that will be the larg...

US Offshore Wind Gets a Much Needed Boost

Vince Font Construction of the first U.S. offshore wind farm is underway off the coast of Rhode Island, and earlier this month s...

Why Renewable Energy in Latin America is a Winner

Carlos Candiales Renewable energy in Latin America has made some important gains over the last decade and seems positioned to continue...

US Wind Energy Selling At Record Low Price of 2.5 Cents per kWh

Andrew Burger Wind power prices have dropped down to an all-time low of just 2.5 cents per kWh, far below the average national aver...

PRESS RELEASES

OFS Announces Commercial Availability of InvisiLight® MDU Optical Solution for Multiple Dwelling Units

OFS, a leading-edge designer, manufacturer and supplier of innovative fiber optic netwo...

Intersolar AWARD „Solar Projects in India“ – Applications being accepted until September 18

The Intersolar AWARD in the category Solar Projects in India honors projects in the fie...

New local energy partnership brings innovative solar tracker to Washington State

A new partnership will bring the innovative AllEarth Solar Tracker solar electric syste...

30 days to GRC Annual Meeting & GEA Geothermal Energy Expo

The Geothermal Resources Council (GRC) has announced that it is only 30 days to go to t...

FEATURED BLOGS

Cronimet / THEnergy study: In solar for mines size does not always matter - Reducing CAPEX with energy efficiency and load shifting

Munich, September 2015. Mining companies are constantly gaining interest in solar solutions because frequently solar ...

Final Program Now Available for GRC Annual Meeting & GEA Geothermal Energy Expo

GRC Annual Meeting & GEA Geothermal Energy Expo - Final Program from

Vacancy? No Problem!

Have you ever tried to sell an efficiency product or service to a prospect that owns or manages a building with high ...

Shedding Some Light on a Taxing Situation for Community-Shared Solar

For renters and for property owners with inadequate roof space, the many benefits of solar electricity may seem out o...

FINANCIAL NEWS

Ivo Arnús is Director of UK Business Development at Spanish renewable energy developer and manufacturer Norvento. Norvento currently has 100MW of wind projects in operation worldwide. The firm has recently entered the UK FiT supported distr...

CURRENT MAGAZINE ISSUE

Volume 18, Issue 4
1507REW_C11

STAY CONNECTED

To register for our free
e-Newsletters, subscribe today:

SOCIAL ACTIVITY

Tweet the Editors! @jennrunyon

FEATURED PARTNERS



EVENTS

Global Wind Energy Council Presents: Doing Business in Europe

There is now 128.8 GW of installed wind energy capacity in the EU (appro...

Doing Business in South Africa – in partnership with GWEC, the Glob...

Wind Energy in South Africa has been expanding dramatically, growing fro...

International Energy and Sustainability Conference 2015

The fourth International Energy and Sustainability Conference will be he...

COMPANY BLOGS

Clean Energy Patents Maintain High Levels in First Quarter, Solar L...

U.S. patents for Clean Energy technologies from the first quarter of 201...

Koch Professor drops his Koch title, still makes same errors plus s...

The Koch Professor’s title isn’t the only thing that’s...

Fact Check: AWEA represents American wind power

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) is proud of its members for ...

NEWSLETTERS

Renewable Energy: Subscribe Now

Solar Energy: Subscribe Now

Wind Energy: Subscribe Now

Geothermal Energy: Subscribe Now

Bioenergy: Subscribe Now  

 

FEATURED PARTNERS