Wind farm operators are betting on a new generation of colossal turbines, which will dwarf many skyscrapers, as they seek to remain profitable after European countries phase out subsidies that have defined the green industry since the 1990s.
The world’s three leading offshore wind operators – DONG Energy, EnBW and Vattenfall – all told Reuters they were looking to these megaturbines to help adapt to the upcoming reality with dwindling government handouts.
According to interviews with turbine makers and engineers, at least one manufacturer – Siemens Gamesa – will have built a prototype megaturbine by next year and the first farms could be up and running in the first half of the next decade.
These massive machines will each stand 300 meters tall – almost as high as London’s Shard, western Europe’s tallest building – with 218-yard rotor spans that will stretch the length of two football fields.
The wind power sector is at a critical juncture as the subsidies that have cradled it since its inception in the early 1990s, and underpinned its business model, disappear as politicians enact a long-planned push to make the industry more commercially viable and able to compete with other energy sources.
The countries that form the hub of the European offshore wind industry – Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Britain – are looking to gradually phase out the handouts over the next decade. This will end a crucial source of revenue for operators; in tenders concluded as recently as 2014, subsidies still accounted for around half of European wind projects’ income.
With the writing on the wall, DONG and EnBW submitted bids with no subsidies factored in at a tender in April for a German project planned for 2024. The auction represented an industry milestone, the first with zero-subsidy bids, but raised the burning question of how operators will be able to make money and survive while offering a commercially attractive alternative to coal and…