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Vestas - Mr. Aidan Cronin. Wind a Template for Eco-innovation in Europe?

01/08/2008

  • Experts interviews

International Policy Advisor at VESTAS Wind System, gives his views on Wind Power business and on the trends and key drivers in eco-innovation.

  • Tell us about Vestas, in a few words and key figures?

Vestas is a global company and market leader in wind energy, operating in more than 40 countries  worldwide. We have production facilities in Denmark, Germany, India, Italy, Scotland, England, Spain, Sweden, Norway, and Australia. We will be opening soon production facilities in China. We employ 10,618 employees worldwide. Last year we had a turnover of 3,583 million Euros and sold about 3185MW of wind power generation machinery.

  • Nowadays, many people compete in the field of wind power; what makes your companydifferent? Do you have a Danish secret for the success?

Vestas have been in the wind business for over 20 years and during that time have been responsible for many of the innovations and standards in place in the industry today. The name Vestas itself means wind power to people in most countries, as Vestas is a truly pioneering and global player. Wind power poses many challenges to engineers not least the fact that the wind industry is now building the largest rotating machines on the planet. A long track record in innovation and solutions engineering are vital to be a respected and reliable player in this market. Vestas has been in wind since the infancy of the modern wind industry and this has given us tremendous ballast. 

  • What has been the toughest challenge you have faced in the wind business?

The largest single challenge is ensuring the acceptance of wind at par with other production technologiesbased on oil, coal, gas, and nuclear. The acceptance of wind and other renewable sources in conventional sectors necessitates a change in the normal mind set. Change is difficult but in the current energy environment, it is a prerequisite for future growth, employment, and innovation in Europe and else where. This generation needs to pay now and not expect future generations to pay later.

  • Some countries or regions still seem to be reluctant against wind power: is there something cultural in the “NIMBY syndrome” (Not In My Backyard), or is it just a question of time?

Due to the size of the plants we are now erecting, we are running into similar problems as other technologies when putting up power generation plants. We have very visible vocal opposition in some countries but that is part of a democratic process. Wind should not be foisted on a community who does not want it but neither should positive communities be held to ransom by a few people in the margin. Wind contributes to capping the price of power for the consumers as soon as this fact becomes more apparent the acceptability of wind will increase. People need to see a local advantage in wind. With the increasing energy price I think that wind is now on the brink of selling itself as it is not prone to fuel price increases and reduces the impact of fuel prices to consumers. 

  • What are the impacts and perspectives of wind energy on employment in Europe?

Europe is at a crossroads in terms of employment creation and creation of our future society. One of the biggest challenges we face is the provision of stable, secure, and competitive energy. Supporting the development of renewable energy resources has the twofold result of solving one of our most pressing problems while building a new innovation based industry at the same time. Not a day goes by without mention of growth, innovation, employment, and maintaining European leadership. The expansion of the EC with 10 new countries has been a priceless gift in terms of extra brain power and gives us an opportunity in Europe to channel our resources in specific targeted sectors that will ensure Europe's continued success in the future. Wind has in many areas taken over from the more traditional ship building industry. With the correct European and National focus on renewables and wind, this sector can only grow to be a large employer in a world that is increasingly worried about energy supply.

  • The technology and size of the wind mill has seen a constant improvement in the past decades:do you see the limits of the technology?

This is an extremely difficult question to answer. Currently building codes are a larger hindrance to bigger machines than lack of technology. Not because these codes are restrictive but rather as a result of the fact that they were written at a time where nobody could conceive of machines that were this large.

  • How do you see the competitiveness of wind electricity?

 If all the external costs of power generation are considered then wind wins hands down in terms of not only cost but also sustainability. Until conventional generation technologies are charged for the damage they do today, renewable energies will have difficulty in tipping the balance in their own favour. 

  • What is your vision for the future: what are the key drivers for the growth of the wind power market? Do you think Europe can keep the leadership in the sector?

My vision of the future is of wind energy being considered a core generation technology along with conventional generation technologies and other renewable technologies. The key driver for wind is correct support and promotion policies by governments followed currently by the increased emphasis on rising fuel prices and the emphasis on the environment and climate change.

The ultimate vision for wind and other renewable energy would be a world where we had managed todevelop compact efficient high density high voltage storage. This could open up the transport market for renewables. So my vision is some time in the future driving a large truck 600km on a single battery which has been charged by renewables.

  • You recently said that “wind is a template for other renewables”. What is needed to make ecoinnovation take-off on a big scale inEurope? What are the key factors for the success?

Wind has proven that renewables can reach large scale penetration worldwide. We now need to ensure that the other smaller renewable sectors get the correct policy environment to grow in size and stature so that they too can reach a level of large scale of economies. In the wind sector, we encourage support for all renewables as we have experienced what can be achieved when you do not take no for an answer. If you combine wind power with a mix of other renewables then you extend the ability of mankinds to conserve and extend vital fossil fuels which are also the source of many plastic, chemical and medicinal compounds. Wind cannot change the world alone but wind and renewables with the correct mix of technology and investment can foster a much more permanent and sustainable world.

  • In few words, how do you see the “R&D race” in eco technologies: how can Europe generatemore success stories?

Europe needs to take its renewable technologies more seriously. We need well financed long term research funding for material research and the application of nanotechnology, computer based modelling, and applied research in mechanical and electrical engineering. We need to nurture a new generation of well qualified renewable champions in academia and in industry. Europe has led the race in renewable technologies until now but without increased focus and funding we will lose this lead in the near future.  I would like to see renewable technologies become the new Airbus of Europe, champions of innovation, employment and European leadership.