Wind turbine decorative image
© Nordex SE
At present, wind farms account for the highest proportion of all renewable energy sources.

Wind power

Wind turbines use the natural power of the wind to generate electrical energy.  Wind power makes the largest contribution to electricity generation from renewable energy sources. In 2020, it reached a new peak with an output of 131 terawatt hours. Wind power has reached a new record level with an output of 126 terawatt-hours. In 2020, the figure was still 126 terawatt-hours. The record in February  was particularly remarkable: with more than 20 terawatt hours, the previous record of March 2019 (15.5 terawatt hours) was clearly exceeded.

Power from wind is becoming cheaper and cheaper

Since 2010, power generation costs from onshore wind turbines have fallen by 39 per cent and from offshore wind turbines by 29 per cent. Technical developments in wind turbines, such as increased hub heights and larger rotor blades, have led to significantly lower electricity prices in the last ten years. In addition, the growing experience in project development, optimised supply chains, economies of scale and lower maintenance costs are making themselves felt. This is apparent from the current report „Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2019“ of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). IRENA has analysed data from 17,000 projects from 2019. Interesting: In more than half of all newly commissioned large-scale plants for renewable electricity generation, such as wind turbines or solar plants, electricity costs were below the cheapest alternative using fossil fuels.

Wind turbines now dominate the landscape in many regions of the world. The Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) reports that by the end of 2020, 743 gigawatts of wind power output was installed onshore and offshore worldwide. Almost a third of this, 288 gigawatts to be precise, is located in China, followed by the USA with around 164 gigawatts and Germany with just under 63 gigawatts. The Chinese also lead the way in annual expansion. Together with the USA, Brazil, the Netherlands and Germany they will have implemented around 80 per cent of the 93 gigawatt new installations in 2020.

Around 76 million euros in funding

Wind power is crucial to the successful implementation of the energy transition. Research institutions and companies are continuously working to further reduce the cost of power from wind energy and to increase the reliability of the plants. In 2020, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) funded a total of 488 ongoing projects with around 76 million euros. Furthermore, in 2020 the BMWi newly approved 99 research projects in 2020 with a funding budget of around 65 million euros.

Powerful and reliable plants

The funding is intended to contribute to making future plants even more powerful, reliable and available with a higher number of full-load hours. Besides the location, the systems technology is decisive for the level of electricity generation costs. Plant elements from the tower, gearbox, generator and power electronics, but also all other mechanical and electrical components, can make significant contributions to reducing costs and increasing reliability.

A holistic  plant design is particularly important: As early as the design phase, consideration should be given to the complexity of production, erecting, operation, dismantling and recycling and how the plants or wind farms can be integrated into the power grid.  Wind turbines and wind farms must be operated intelligently and flexibly. Advanced control strategies can improve the yield or extend the lifetime of the plants. 

As wind power continues to expand, wind-friendly locations are becoming rarer, which means that expansion is increasingly taking place in complex terrain. It is therefore essential to use suitable methods to select potentially favourable locations and then to explore the location over a longer period of time using the most economical methods possible.

As the size of modern wind turbines increases, more and more components are reaching the limits of their material stress capacity. New materials, for example for weight reduction or increased reliability, are crucial for effective and economical plant construction and operation.

Wind turbines in the alpha ventus offshore wind farm around the FINO 1 research platform
© BMWi - Holger Vonderlind

Wind turbines in the alpha ventus offshore wind farm around the FINO 1 research platform

Logistics and maintenance pose major challenges for the operation of offshore wind farms: The availability of the plants is decisive for their economic efficiency, as offshore wind turbines can only be reached with great effort in the event of defects. This is why innovative grid connection and logistics concepts are important, which take into account the availability of the plants, the transport of personnel and material as well as pooling concepts and operation and maintenance concepts.