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Accelerating the energy transition: The vital role of wind power

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Dr Hendrik Lau Global Subject Matter Expert - Renewables, LRQA View profile

Dr Hendrik Lau, LRQA’s leading wind energy expert, discusses the importance of wind energy, its crucial role in achieving net zero goals and the challenges faced by developers.

As the world continues to grapple with the challenges of global climate change, the need for a swift and seamless energy transition has never been more pressing. Wind energy, with its clean, sustainable, and abundant supply of electricity, has emerged as a game-changer in this transition, offering a valuable solution to the growing demand for renewable energy sources. But to fully realise the potential of wind energy, it is crucial that its development and implementation are done in a responsible and sustainable manner. That's where expert assurance comes in, ensuring that wind projects, equipment and supply chains meet the highest standards of quality, safety, and sustainability while complying with stringent laws and regulations. 

The wind energy industry is crucial to the achievement of Net Zero goals

One of the main benefits of renewable energy sources such as wind is their decentralised nature; when considering traditional fossil fuel installations, renewable energy infrastructure can be built on a much smaller scale.

Wind power is also available worldwide, which means it is not limited by geographical location and can be harnessed anywhere. It is a zero-emission source of electricity, producing no harmful greenhouse gases or pollutants during its operation.

Additionally, as climate change continues to be one of the most pressing issues, many countries are committing to ambitious net zero targets. To achieve these targets, we must scale up our ability to generate electricity from wind power; it is vital for meeting our energy needs today and ensuring a sustainable future for generations to come.

The wind energy industry is already experiencing significant growth. New onshore installations have reached record numbers in regions such as Europe, Latin America, Africa & the Middle East. However, for countries like the UK and Germany to meet their climate goals, the wind energy industry must continue to experience this rate of growth and more.

Developers are facing a range of challenges

When it comes to planning and building new wind energy facilities, developers are facing several challenges. The first and most significant challenge is cost. Developing wind energy projects, whether onshore or offshore, requires substantial backing. Despite government funding existing in most European countries, the availability and reliability of this funding can be uncertain and subject to political changes.

Another challenge is the supply chain. With the high demand for wind energy projects, developers face difficulties building and managing new supply chains and auditing new suppliers. Additionally, there are concerns about the current supply chain capacity to meet the growing demand for wind energy. By 2030, it’s projected that around 380 gigawatts of new wind power will have been installed globally, which translates to around 190 to 200 new wind farms.

Climate change is also a challenge. Drastic weather changes, like rougher, higher winds and record-breaking temperatures, will impact wind farms over time, potentially reducing their lifetime.

Expert assurance is critically important

Accessing the right technical expertise is a vital end-to-end requirement for the success of any wind energy project. Current wind energy projects have the same goals: high performance, output and efficiency – all of which require expert assurance at every stage of the facility’s lifecycle.

When using certification as an example. Every aspect of a wind farm, from the raw materials to the equipment and final turbines, must be audited and certified to a set of standards. This ensures safety, compliance, and quality.

In Germany, the equipment used in wind farm development currently requires four certificates. There are plans to reduce this to a single certificate, which is excellent because it will speed up processes. However, it may increase risk as fewer auditors will be required to conduct checks. This highlights the importance of getting things right and why accessing the correct technical expertise is so important.

Supply chains require effective management 

Most wind projects rely on extensive global supply chains for specialist knowledge, equipment, and services, but managing multiple suppliers across different locations can introduce risks.

Furthermore, if there are fewer certification requirements in the future, the potential for firms to enter the supply chain with lower-quality materials, products, and services will grow. To protect against this, Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) companies must implement robust supplier audit programs and quality assurance processes. This will add to the workloads of EPCs, so it's essential to work with the right technical experts to build effective supply chain assurance programs that mitigate risk through measures such as supplier audits, site inspections and supervision.

Lifetime extension is a  posibility

Wind energy facilities are engineered for a lifespan of 20 to 25 years. Regular servicing and inspections are crucial to ensure that this lifespan is met.

We are also seeing a growing market demand for risk-based inspections, where companies like LRQA inspect assets against a range of different criteria, which in some circumstances, could lead to the extension of an asset's lifetime. By having assets regularly serviced and inspected, especially when they are approaching the latter years of their expected operational lives, organizations can extend the life of their assets and improve their operational performance.

Looking to the future

As we continue to strive for greater efficiency and higher performance, we will see the development of larger and taller wind turbines that can harness more wind power. We’re also seeing the emergence of floating wind installations where there isn’t enough flat seabed for more traditional fixed installations. Floating platforms can be physically moved, which provides a degree of flexibility.

In short, the future of wind energy looks incredibly promising, and it is clear that there are many opportunities and potential advancements to come.

LRQA provides a range of wind assurance services delivered by experts with deep sector knowledge. We can work closely with you to build a bespoke assurance program that meets the unique needs of your organization and project. For more information, get in touch.

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