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Professor Andreas Reuter, director of the Fraunhofer IWES Institute, talked to the BINE Information Service about the foundation of the Wind Energy Research Alliance.
© Tanja Knigge
Interview with Andreas Reuter from the Wind Energy Research Alliance
18.02.2013

At the foundation of the new collaboration at the end of January 2013 (from the left): Dr. Stephan Barth (Managing Director, ForWind), German Federal Environment Minister Peter Altmaier, Prof. Andreas Reuter (Director of the Fraunhofer IWES Institute), Dr. Jan Teßmer (Coordinator Wind Energy Research, DLR).
© ForWind

Wind research in Germany is taking on a new form

The new Wind Energy Research Alliance was officially launched in Germany at the beginning of this year. Professor Andreas Reuter from the IWES Fraunhofer Institute explained to BINE what opportunities this cooperation offers. The Alliance is a collaboration between the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the ForWind Center for Wind Energy Research of the Universities of Oldenburg, Hanover and Bremen, and the Fraunhofer Institute for Wind Energy and Energy Systems Technology (IWES). The first focus of research is Smart Blades, a research project for the intelligent, lightweight, robust rotor blade of the future.

 

BINE Information Service: Professor Reuter, what are the aims of the Wind Energy Research Alliance ?

Reuter: We decided to collaborate for two reasons. Firstly, current wind technology requires a holistic understanding of the system. It is no longer sufficient to rush into optimising just one single component. Throughout the entire process aerodynamics engineers, construction engineers, electrical technicians and mechanical engineers must work together across the disciplines – to name just four specialist areas among many. With this in mind, we have now created a perfect platform with the Research Alliance.
Secondly, wind technology nowadays demands large-scale research structures in order to be successful. A great deal of effort is put into developing components. Before market launch, they then have to be tested to make sure they are functioning properly. But the infrastructure is expensive. The three partners are making their test plants available to the Alliance, and are planning to share their use in the future. This prevents duplications, and saves research funds.

Why does the wind energy sector need a research alliance?

Reuter: There are major issues for the future in wind technology which must be tackled. For example, the cost aspect: in Germany, wind energy onshore is already highly competitive with around eight euro cents per kilowatt-hour. In other countries, the costs are already lower, however. Our aim is therefore to further reduce costs in Germany. This would be highly advantageous for energy economics. From our perspective, other issues are improved predictability of grid feeding, the reliability of the turbines and ancillary services for grid stability.
The offshore sector overall already opens up a new dimension. Currently, I would estimate the opportunities for further optimisation of wind technology as being 30 to 40 per cent.

Do you plan to include other institutes into the Wind Energy Research Alliance in the future?

Reuter: We regard ourselves as being more or less complete and well set up with our current constellation. Naturally, we are also open to joint projects with other institutions when research into other issues is needed, or when collaboration offers the prospect of new insights. I’m thinking of acceptance or materials research, for example. It would depend on the topic in question. In future, each of the three partners will still be involved in bilateral research projects with other institutions and companies outside of the Research Alliance.

How does German wind research compare to that of other countries?

Reuter: With the Wind Energy Research Alliance and its staff of 600, Germany is now competitive at an international level. Our neighbours in Denmark have been researching wind technology at the Risø National Laboratory for over 30 years and with over 300 members of staff. The Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN), the British National Renewable Energy Centre (Narec), the Spanish Centro Nacional de Energías Renovables (CENER) and the National Renewable Energies Laboratory (NREL) and Colorado Renewable Energy Society (CRES) in the USA are also large-scale institutions. Wind energy is being used on a global basis. Just think of the number of international panels and standardisation bodies in which the Research Alliance for Wind Energy will participate and collaborate for Germany, in order to achieve a global presence.

The Research Alliance is pushing the way forward for smart blades

For the Smart Blades research project, your strategy is that the Research Alliance should create the basis for the intelligent rotor blades, in order to then make them available to the industry. How do you intend to collaborate with manufacturers in general?

Reuter: We are pursuing the classic approach taken by the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft  and are working closely together with the industry. We are constantly aware of the need to avoid committing ourselves exclusively to individual companies. In terms of this concept, Smart Blades is a special case. Since here, there is a significant development risk, the manufacturers have so far not dared to approach the topic. As a research alliance, we are prepared to take the matter in hand. Here, failed projects in other countries, which were launched onto the market far too soon, act as a warning. First of all, we have to understand the basic principles, then develop the tools and finally go to the test stand. From the start, the Smart Blades project will be supported by the industry in the form of an advisory body.

What other topics are you planning to approach in the near future?

Reuter: Other project ideas relate to the development of mathematical models, as well as controllers and measuring systems. I can also see a need for research into the optimisation of the different support structures, and the interaction between the ground and the foundation. In the future, guarantees will play a more important role.

Wind turbines are to become grid-supporting  power plants

What in your opinion will wind turbines look like in the coming decade?

Reuter: Wind turbines are power plants which happen to be driven by the wind. The future will decide how reliably this power plant function can be fulfilled. How safely can a plant guarantee ancillary services for the electricity grid? By contrast, the naked investment costs will become less significant. As a result, it is inevitable that onshore, it will not necessarily be the output that increases, but the length of the rotor blades. Only in this way can ancillary services be guaranteed in areas where there are low wind levels. I can see this trend in other countries, such as China and the USA, too. Turbines which also produce under low wind conditions make it possible to bring wind farms closer to the consumer centres. Here in Germany, these centres are in the south and west of the Republic.
Offshore, the turbines will certainly become larger. The trend is leaning towards ten megawatts. Only in this way can the cost of installation be kept within a certain limit.

(mi)

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Addresses

Partner in the Research Alliance for Wind Energy
ForWind – Zentrum für Windenergieforschung

Coordinator in the Research Alliance for Wind Energy
Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR)