Wind power is a must for carbon neutrality to succeed

Wind power production has developed rapidly in a very short time. As a clean, renewable source of energy, its role in electricity production is growing as the EU and other countries strive to reduce their CO2 emissions and dependence on fossil fuels. Electrification is an important step on the way to carbon-neutrality, but it means that our need for electricity will increase. Especially in the north, wind power is the dominating form of new renewable sources of energy.

Currently, approximately 13% of the EU’s carbon-neutral electricity production comes from wind power. The share of wind power varies by country. Of the Nordics countries, Sweden has a particularly strong wind power base, and many new wind parks have been built in recent years. Finland and Norway are catching up, and the market in Finland is currently quite attractive. In Europe, the majority of new electricity production investments are in wind or solar power – it has become mainstream.

Is your idea of a wind power turbine outdated?

In the last decade or two, wind power has developed tremendously. Wind power plants produce much more electricity than before – as much as ten times more than the plants of the early 2000s. This is mainly because of the increased size of the individual wind turbines. Blades are longer and rotors larger than before, so the turbine swipes at a larger area as its turns, producing more energy. With bigger generators and gear systems, the output increases further. One modern wind turbine produces 19 GWh a year – enough to power 13,000 households. Ten years ago, the output of one turbine was 8 GWh/year, so the increase is considerable.

Another significant factor in the development is the increased height of the wind turbines. Higher up, the winds are stronger, and therefore higher turbines are more productive. Earlier, wind parks were only built in places with ideal wind conditions, such as coastlines or fell tops, to reach sufficient output levels. Today, there are much more potential areas where wind power is feasible. Offshore wind farms are also a possibility, albeit a more expensive one than onshore installations.

New materials have also contributed to the development. For example, using carbon fibre in the turbine blades makes them stronger and lighter, which has made it possible to build longer blades.

Wind power has many benefits. The most important is that it is emission-free and renewable. In addition, it is available everywhere in the world. Conditions may be better in one place and less optimal in another, but wind is everywhere. In Finland and Sweden, it is also now the cheapest alternative when it comes to building new electricity production.

Due to its intermittent nature of production, other sources of CO2-free power generation are needed. Sufficient amounts of electricity must be provided to households and industries at all times, regardless of the weather conditions. Therefore, for example hydropower or nuclear power is used to balance renewables and ensure security of supply.

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How is digitalisation applied in wind power?
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In wind power, digitalisation means more measuring instrumentation, sensors and automatic functions as well as self-diagnostics. This makes maintenance easier: instead of carrying out maintenance at scheduled intervals, the condition of the turbine can be monitored continuously and parts replaced when wear out or fault is detected. This can translate to savings in use and repair costs.

Sometimes, a so-called digital twin is created to test and model operations. It is a virtual copy of the turbine, identical to the actual physical machine. Using a digital twin prevents harm to the real turbine if a such a test proves unsuccessful.

What kinds of challenges are there related to wind power?
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A wind park requires a power line for feeding the electricity into the grid. This may entail cutting down forest to clear the path. This can be seen as an inconvenience by landowners.

For electricity production, the intermittency of wind power is a challenge. It is not always windy, and production is not very predictable. Therefore, a load-balancing electricity source, for example hydropower or nuclear power, is used to ensure a sufficient electricity supply when wind power is not available

Is wind power harmful to birds or to biodiversity in general?
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When a wind power project is initiated, an environmental impact assessment is carried out to determine how the installation would affect animal and plant life in the area. As part of the assessment, birds are counted during spring and autumn migrations. In areas that are on migration routes, very careful studies are needed. The movement patterns of birds are studied, including flight height in the area as well as the positions of resting and feeding areas in relation to the wind park.

For example in Finland, comprehensive monitoring of bird behaviour near wind power installations has been carried out. Studies have found that collisions are very rare, and no population level impacts have arisen from wind farms. NGOs have also carried out studies and concluded that climate change is a much more significant threat to birdlife than windfarms.

What kinds of wind power projects is Fortum currently engaged in?
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Fortum’s newest wind farm Kalax was recently completed in Närpes, Finland. Construction started in spring 2019. The wind park comprises 21 units with a maximum output of 4.3 megawatts each. They represent cutting edge technology in wind power, with a 150-metre rotor diameter, engine room height at 155 metres and the rotor blades reaching to 233 metres at their highest point.

In addition to Kalax, we operate three wind farms in Norway and one wind farm in Sweden. In Russia, with our partners, we are the largest producer of wind power with our eight wind farms. We are also actively developing new wind farms in all of these countries: some of these projects are in the permitting phase, and some are ready to start construction. In Fortum’s renewed strategy, wind power also plays a significant role. So no doubt you’ll hear more good wind power news from us soon!

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