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Reducing the cost of wind energy for a renewable future

A 100% renewable energy scenario is possible in Europe, but to achieve it we need to make offshore wind more competitive and start redesigning our energy systems, says world expert Brian Vad Mathiesen

In 2015 Denmark produced 42% of its electricity from wind turbines, breaking the world record of 39% that it set the previous year. But, this is only the beginning. Researchers are looking at ways we can push this figure further and ultimately transition to 100% renewable energy systems. One of them is Brian Vad Mathiesen, a world leading engineer at Aalborg University in Denmark, and ISI Highly Cited researcher. He talks to about reducing the cost of offshore wind energy and the challenges of moving towards systems that generate the majority of their energy from renewables. What can be done to make wind power more competitive with non-renewable energy? First of all you have to realise how competitive it actually is. If we look at the cost of onshore wind, including different measurements of balances and costs, it is competitive with the fossil fuel alternatives. Having said that, that doesn't go for all onshore sites and it certainly isn't true for offshore, which has a cost about 20–50% higher at the moment than fossil fuel alternatives. To make offshore turbines less costly we need to create a market where the producers can erect a big park and get experience with the construction of offshore turbines, and also get experience shipping the turbines to the site and building the foundations for offshore turbines. If we look into the future, I would expect that by 2025 the costs from offshore can be competitive. With regards to competitiveness, you also have to realise that if you count externality costs, both offshore wind and PV [photovoltaics] have lower societal costs than fossil fuels, due to emissions having a health cost and CO2 emissions having other adverse effects. But these things are very hard to put an actual figure on. Researchers in Europe are developing solutions to face the higher costs of maintenance of turbines offshore and solve problems such as the erosion of blades caused by the marine environment. What other technological issues could be addressed to reduce the cost of wind energy further? I think offshore turbines will be bigger than they are today, which will lower the production costs. But, I really think it is about the foundation and installation costs. We need more experience with that. Many people think noise is an issue with onshore wind turbines. What can be done to tackle this perceived problem and how is it likely to affect the development of onshore wind? And, influence the development of offshore wind? The key to tackling perceived visual or noise effects is local ownership and good processes leading to the erection of wind turbines. Wind turbines were developed in Denmark and the key for such large acceptance rates and very little problems despite having several thousand turbines in our countryside is that local communities are part of the decision making process and ownership. Ownership is also key in some cases for offshore. I would suggest that a large part of the ownership is offered to coastal inhabitants, who may be affected visually. There are no sound issues offshore. No proven long-term effects on wildlife either. As you've mentioned, offshore wind is more expensive than onshore wind, but the energy yield per turbine can be higher. Where do you think the future lies – onshore or offshore? It will be a combination. When we look into the future, what kind of renewables do we need? I see it like this, if the ambition is to go towards 100 per cent renewable – so very large scale renewable systems – then there is the easy option of burning biomass instead of coal, natural gas and oil. But the problem with that is there is not enough biomass. Read more at:


wind, energy, renewables, offshore, Brian Vad Mathiesen, electricity, wind turbines, competitiveness, emissions, maintenance, technology, citizen engagement, Denmark