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Standardization of wind turbines: a 'Swiss army knife' for the future of offshore wind
By: Erika van Zinderen Bakker
Many wind turbines have been built in recent decades. Where this started slowly at first, both construction and development went faster and faster. Parks became larger, turbines larger and more efficient. But there is an end to that. Can standardization in the sector help keep development up to speed?
Until now, enlarging wind turbines has always been cost-effective. Due to the higher yield of larger turbines, the investment was earned back. Technically, they can get even bigger. And therefore yield even more returns. But how long is that little extra return worth the investment? Moreover: more aspects play a role in the future of wind turbines than just cost-effectiveness.

A long-term vision requires choices with a view to matters such as construction, education, safety, nature and resource use. This is where standardization comes in. According to Bob Meijer, director of TKI Offshore Energy at Topsector Energie, and David Molenaar, CEO of Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, standardization of wind turbines can have a positive effect on all these aspects.

From Siemens Gamesa, Molenaar uses his knowledge to help start-ups with innovations for offshore wind. He has been arguing for standardization of wind turbines since 2019. “At that time, the highest wind turbine was 251 meters, but there were already rumors that new turbines would be over 300 meters. My question was: are we still making progress? We invest in wind energy for the climate, to combat CO2 emissions. Much has been achieved in less than ten years by building large turbines. But how do we proceed? By building even more windmills? Or bigger? Ultimately, we have to build zero waste, we have to reduce emissions from construction, we have to build circularly. Then you have to look at lifespan extension, but also at infrastructure, the use of equipment. You can tackle all those things through standardization.”
Swiss Army knife
Meijer explains how that works. “We present standardization as a Swiss army knife. Clear standards make it easier to reuse materials, but training in the sector can also become more efficient. Furthermore, manufacturers can produce more efficiently, because there is less variation on the market. For the construction of turbines at sea, it is practical, because ships involved in construction must have established sizes. With standard sizes of wind turbines, less variation in ships is required. Standardization is also a great advantage for automation and robotization in the sector. And we haven't even mentioned the benefits in terms of safety, resource use and cost reduction.”

What is TKI Offshore Energy?
The TKI (Top Consortium for Knowledge and Innovation) Offshore Energy is part of the Top Sector Energy. This organization stimulates new initiatives and projects that accelerate the transition from fossil to sustainable energy in our country. The top sector does this by helping companies, knowledge institutions, governments and social organizations to work together. TKI Offshore Energy helps to shape the energy system of the future, to maximize the yield of offshore renewable energy at the lowest possible cost, and to achieve this with a positive impact on nature. The TKI helps all parties working on the energy transition at sea to move forward in a responsible energy transition: from energy companies to nature managers, from large companies to the smallest start-ups and from knowledge institutions to NGOs.
Molenaar was one of the first to see the need for the government to impose a maximum tip height. That is the total height of the turbine when the tip of a turbine blade is at its highest point. “The current unofficial standard is the outcome of a process led by the NWEA (Nederlandse WindEnergie Associatie, the branch association of the wind sector, ed.). Developers, suppliers, wind turbine manufacturers and installation companies all participated. In the resulting standard, we use an altitude limit of 1000 feet.” That is a tip height of 305 meters.

“The standard also specifies a minimum of 14 megawatts per turbine. NWEA now applies this standard up to and including 2037. In 2028, we will evaluate with the sector and consider whether we need to adjust the standard for the period after 2037. We simply have to accelerate in the sector in order to achieve the climate goals. That means investing in infrastructure, supply chain and repeating previous projects. A clear standard is needed to be able to really make speed.”
However, the standard has not yet been officially established. According to Molenaar, this has to do with fear. “We are so used to thinking in terms of growth, return and costs. If we introduce a standard here, China could adopt completely different standards. Many stakeholders are still afraid of competition. There is fear that China will present a larger turbine.” Meijer adds: “Everyone grew up with cheaper, cheaper and bigger, bigger. But the benefits of standardization only become apparent over a longer period of time. Such a process takes time. That time can only be created through outside regulations.”

North Sea nature
In addition to standardization, Molenaar and Meijer also see another important theme: the environment where wind turbines are placed. Meijer: “We also have to ask ourselves: how do we deal with the nature around us? It cannot be the case that at the end of the transition we look around and see that nothing is left of the North Sea. This has less to do with standardization, but it is also urgent.”

Molenaar sees the entire transition in offshore wind energy as one complex whole. “We have one North Sea. It is very important that we set it up properly in one go. This means that we also take fishing, recreation and shipping into account. In addition, we ourselves are part of nature. Now everyone is protecting their own piece. For example, fishermen want a lot of space between the windmills. But what they really want is: just keep fishing. So we have to look at how we all use the North Sea in such a way that everyone benefits from it. If the North Sea nature is preserved, that is also good for the fishery.”

The North Sea Foundation is committed to sustainable use of the North Sea and endorses the importance of standardizing the tip height of wind turbines. “There are many advantages to it. For birds, the gain is mainly to be made in reducing bird strikes," said a spokesperson for the foundation. “Many bird species are legally protected because they are already suffering too much from the many industrial activities in the North Sea. At the moment there is still insufficient knowledge of which tip height has the least impact on which birds. It is also not yet sufficiently clear which tip heights work best at different locations of wind farms in the North Sea. The same birds are not found everywhere.”
According to the foundation, more research should be done on this as a priority, so that the standardization of tip heights is also ecologically sound. “What we need to avoid is a situation where this standardization is good for the business model, but does not effectively reduce bird strikes. If more wind turbines cause more bird strikes than permitted by law, this could lead to a halt to the construction of wind farms. That is not good for achieving the climate goals, nor good for achieving the biodiversity goals.”

Strengthening biodiversity
“Wind turbines have an impact both above and below the waterline. Noise impact, for example,” says Meijer. Marine animals can experience a great deal of nuisance from the noise during the pile-driving of the foundations for wind turbines. “But there is also another side. Wind farms also enhance biodiversity. For example, wind farms are a safe place for many fish and other marine life. We need to think about offshore wind energy in such a way that it ultimately produces a net positive result for nature.”

According to the North Sea Foundation, wind farms have not yet offered any benefits for birds. "But for underwater nature, because bottom-disturbing fishing is not allowed in wind farms," ​​the spokesperson explains. An example of this is the 'De Rijke North Sea programme' of the North Sea Foundation and Nature & Environment. Together with the wind industry, this is primarily committed to more natural reinforcement under water around wind turbines.

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  • dickson mutai

    47 w

    it'll become easier to collaborate and build upon

    • Ingmar Rentzhog

      47 w

      Very interesting. Thanks for your insightful post.

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