The low winning bids in the recent UK CfD auctions for offshore wind were rightly lauded as good news for consumers and governments, but will these low bids stifle investment in disruptive technologies, such as airborne wind energy?
Current CFD winning projects are based on horizontal axis wind turbines (HAWT) technology becoming bigger, better and cheaper. The offshore wind industry believes that with HAWTs it can be among the lowest cost sources of new generation capacity, including non-renewables, so there is the possibility that the perceived need for disruptive technologies diminishes. Such a view would be at best naïve and at worst complacent. Any industry, or even company, that feels it no longer needs to innovate will soon be surpassed by competitors.
Many of the major societal shifts expected in the coming decades, especially the electrification of transport, will mean that the cost of electricity will play an even larger role in national and household expenditure, so the pressure to drive down costs as far as possible will increase. The UK’s ‘Cost of Energy Review’, published 25 October, shows that the UK government is already concerned about future energy costs.
To continue to push prices down, the existing offshore wind industry needs to continue to innovate and ensure competition. The cost reductions already achieved using HAWT technology gives us confidence that wind farms with larger HAWTs will enable LCOE to fall a further 30% by 2030.
Airborne wind energy technologies have the potential to become disruptive technologies that help wind generation to achieve future signification further cost reduction. They will benefit fully from cost reductions in the supply chain common with ‘conventional’ HAWT technology such as development, transmission, transmission operation maintenance and service (OMS), OMS more generally and array electrical.
To date, testing of airborne wind energy technologies has demonstrated many of the necessary technical ingredients needed to justify further development. As new test sites are established without restrictions such as running at night, prototypes in the 500kW to 600kW range are now needed to demonstrate they can operate continuously, automatically and unattended for significant periods.
To then move from this intermediary stage to commercial deployment, airborne technologies will need robust and independent assessment of LCOE to show that successful operation has not eroded its LCOE reduction potential. That will then turn the perceived gamble of trying something ‘new’ into a sensible business decision for investors and developers.