Royal Dutch Shell believes the future of wind power is in North America, where it is redoubling its efforts after pulling out of the large-scale London Array wind farm project in the UK.
“The European theatre has been built out,’’ Dick Williams, president of Shell Wind Energy, told the FT.
The growing importance of wind power originally drew Shell into what was set to be the world’s biggest offshore wind farm, the 1 gigawattLondon Array, that put the UK in line to be the world leader in building offshore wind farms. But on May 2 Shell said it was selling its stake in the project to turn attention to North America.
Mr Williams draws attention to the large tracts of available land in unpopulated areas in the US and Canada that enable cheaper on-shore expansion, against the more expensive option of developing offshore projects in Europe.
Eight of Shell’s wind projects are in the US, with the other three in the Netherlands, Spain and Germany.
Mr Williams said Shell had further plans to expand in North America: “We have over half a million acres optioned for wind projects.’’
Demand for wind farms is growing, as underlined by a US Department of Energy report this month that wind can provide 20 per cent of US electricity needs by 2030.
The US wind energy industry put 1,400 megawatts, or approximately $3bn-worth of new generating capacity, in place in the first quarter of 2008. This was enough to serve 400,000 homes.
Last year, the US wind energy industry installed 5,244 megawatts, expanding the nation’s total wind power generating capacity by 45 per cent in a single calendar year.
Highlighting the company’s readiness for expansion in the sector, Mr Williams notes that Shell already had staff on the ground in the US with experience in safety, finance, legal and environmental support, and that wind maps for the region confirm the strong wind necessary to power turbines.
“All the arrows seemed to point to North America,’’ Mr Williams said.
Shell is working on several projects to improve the efficiency of some of its wind projects.
In Maui in Hawaii, it is planning a new wind farm which will combine wind and battery power – Shell believes battery storage technology could store power generated by the wind turbines during off-peak periods, which could be used to meet peak demand.
In Briscoe County in Texas, Shell is developing a wind project with Luminant, a TXU subsidiary. The scheme will explore using compressed air storage, in which excess power could be used to pump air underground for later use in electricity generation.
“This industry is literally in its infancy,” Mr Williams said.
He said Shell was starting to look at facilitating support to junior colleges that provide education in wind power technology. This was to ensure there were enough well-trained people to support the growth in the industry.
Mr Williams said that one technician was needed to support every five turbines. With 2,700 new turbines installed in the US last year, that meant 500 new technicians were needed.
30 May 2008
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