Wind energy research and development

Research and development of new technologies take time

Monday 01 Jul 19


Peter Hauge Madsen
Head of Department
DTU Wind Energy
+45 46 77 50 01

Head of Department at DTU Wind Energy Peter Hauge Madsen has some good advice for the politicians when efforts and research funds at the climate area are to be prioritized: Bet on two horses! Create the foundation for the development of existing technologies as well as radically new innovative solutions.

The new majority of the Danish Parliament has ambitions of a new, ambitious climate act. Denmark is to reduce its greenhouses gas emissions by 70 per cent by 2030, compared to 1990.

This development requires a conversion to renewable energy at a higher rate than we have seen so far. It is an ambitious goal and there is very little time to reach it.
During the election campaign, we have heard many suggestions that more research should be done in new technologies. As the director of one of the world's leading wind energy institutes, I can only agree.

New and well-known sustainable energy solutions are important elements in limiting the climate crisis and preventing global warming and ensuring the prosperity and welfare that we all want.

Research is necessary in order to develop, pave the way for and accelerate the use of sustainable energy technologies. In this connection, politicians should think in two ways.

Research in energy technology

There is a need of radically new technologies and solutions to complement and perhaps eventually replace the currently known sustainable energy technologies; wind, sun, biomass, etc.

Innovation and revolutionary ideas are needed too – to change the way of extracting, consuming and recycling energy. However, believing basic research and brand new, untried technologies can make a significant difference within a short period of years is unrealistic.

Development and implementation of new technologies take time. In Denmark, we have developed wind energy into a competitive energy technology, which is being installed all over the world – as well as solar energy is.

It has taken 40 years to develop wind energy to the point where we are today, at which wind energy supplies almost half of the electricity in Denmark. That is a world record.
However, that said, wind energy covers less than 10 percent of Denmark's energy consumption - the rest comes from oil, gas, waste incineration, biofuel, solar cells, etc. Consequently, a massive effort should be made to ensure Denmark to achieve the climate goals.

Especially if we have got an ambition of influencing the rest of the world, where wind energy only accounts for a few percent - and where Denmark might export technology and expertise for billions.

We are by no means ready to develop the technology which can be made more competitive, more reliable and easier to integrate. It requires intense research, development and innovation but on the other hand, it will accelerate its use and give Danish companies opportunities to contribute to the global transition to sustainable energy.

If the globe is heated with the speed which climate scientists have calculated the solution in the short term (and 10-30 years is short term in the sector) is to be found among existing technologies, to a large extent. So, focusing on further developing the technologies which we already know and have been demonstrated globally would be wise, too.

Only when the research is completed and the technologies are developed, produced and widely used in energy systems which can exploit the technologies, society and the world can benefit from them.

Sustainable energy production

Sustainable energy production applies to all parts of the process - from the computer-based design to the development of new materials in the production process, improved transport by land or water, establishment of foundations, calculations of the position of the wind turbines in relation to the wind, extraction of energy and much, much more.

At every link of the chain there is room for improvement and an opportunity of creating better sustainability. We can really do something about this within the next ten years.

In addition, the entire energy system must be optimized. Storage and distribution of power, intelligent systems that make the most out of the energy.

Finally, it's also about prices. The market is not regulated by green conviction, but by black numbers on the bottom line. The price of all stages of production must be reduced in order to make the total price of wind energy the only alternative.

During the past ten years, the prices of wind energy have dropped significantly and they are now lower than the black energy. If we can continue this development, we force the market to go the green way.

At the same time, we have to develop new technologies. Because there will (probably) be a time after 2030, whether we have kept global warming below 1.5 - 2 degrees or not, of which there is going be a need for even better utilization of the energy in a sustainable way.

The technologies are not going to be profitable in the short run. It takes time!

Consequently, for the politicians who prioritize the efforts and the research funds the advice is: Bet on two horses! Create the foundation for basic as well as applied research and for the development of both existing technologies such as wind and district heating as well as radically new, innovative solutions.