Brussels, 10 October 2005
Energy at the dawn of the 21st century
Research funded under the Fifth Framework Programme
Wind energy has been used for thousands of years for a wide variety of purposes; its early harnessing, via sails, as a means of ship propulsion played a significant role in the expansion of the early empires. When static windmills were first used on land is uncertain, but it has been suggested that the Babylonian Emperor Hammurabi used them for an irrigation scheme in 700 BC.
By the 18th century, what we commonly call the Dutch windmill was becoming a common sight across Europe, used not only for the milling of corn and similar products, but also for lifting water for irrigation purposes. The other prominent development was the wind pump which sprung up all over rural America, Australia, and elsewhere as a means of pumping water from deep boreholes for cattle grazing and farm irrigation. It is estimated that there were 5 million such machines in the USA around 1900. Many can still be seen functioning around the world, apart from their frequent scenesetting role in Hollywood movies.
Between 1900 and the oil crisis of 1973 there was no sustained development of wind energy, although the odd electricity generating wind turbine did appear from time to time. However, the basis for the modern wind turbine for electricity generation was set during that period by European inventors such as Poul la Cour and Johannes Juul in Denmark and Ulrich Hütter in Germany.
The USA was the first nation to invest heavily in wind energy, and in the early 1980s Californian wind farms served as a beacon to researchers and enthusiasts around the world. Activities increased in many western European countries but the falling back of oil prices tended to reduce the political and economic pressure for rapid progress.
Various European countries continued to invest individually in the harnessing of wind energy for electricity production and, as this brochure will illustrate, rapid progress was made during the last quarter of the 20th century. The cost of wind-produced electricity from favourable sites is already competitive with fossil-fuel sources.
Today, wind turbines are gigantic rotating machines with blades up to twice the length of the largest plane wings. Nacelles with gearboxes and generators weighing more than a jumbo jet are erected on top of 120-metre masts, and rotors sweep an area the size of a football field.
Wind technology can no longer borrow research from other sectors: it needs to forge ahead on its own.
This document highlights the contribution that more than 30 projects with funding of € 42 million under FP5 have made to the overall progress of wind energy in Europe. In this publication, the projects are grouped under six themes, and are described in further detail in the following sections.
The first area relates to wind turbines. More economic operation of wind energy installations can be obtained through larger wind turbines offering economies of scale and making better use of good sites. This includes the exploitation of highwind- speed sites in complex terrains with robust, easy-to-transport and easy-to-install wind turbines, and the development of small and medium-sized stand-alone windmills with high efficiency, low cost and low environmental impact.
The second area deals with blades and rotors which are the most critical components of wind turbines. The aerodynamic properties of the blades can still be enhanced using experimental data from operating wind turbines and from wind tunnel measurements, leading to higher efficiency and lower noise. The dynamic behaviour of blades as well as the hub can be improved with skilful combinations of new materials, especially to reduce overall weight.
The third area examines forecasting and mapping of wind resources. A better knowledge of wind resources can significantly reduce the cost of wind power production by selecting the most appropriate sites (high wind and steady conditions). Better forecasting of power production increases dependability of supply and allows time for preventive actions to protect wind turbines from excessive wind loads.
Wind farms, i.e. groups of wind turbines installed at given sites, are presented in the fourth area. They offer economies of scale and make better use of the available sites. The funded projects aim to improve the management, monitoring and surveillance of such wind farms and to provide recommendations on how best to set them up.
The fifth area is integration of wind power. Wind is a source of electrical power which varies in time and is produced in a decentralised way (though modern offshore wind parks will soon have generation capacities comparable to conventional power plants). This creates special problems, especially if wind is to provide a high share of overall electrical power supply. These problems can be solved or at least alleviated by dedicated research efforts on the integration of wind power into local, national, and international grids.
The short-to-medium term wind energy RTD actions managed by the Directorate-General for Energy and Transport (DG TREN) are described in the sixth area. These projects aim to demonstrate, under realistic operating conditions, how integrating innovative technological solutions contributes to cost reduction. In par ticular, projects in the context of the growing market of larger machines and the emerging offshore market have been supported.