Fraunhofer IWES director expects: “Wind will become one of the cheapest resources”

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Critics, who argue that both on and offshore wind energy will remain cost intensive, will be proven wrong. That is the opinion of Andreas Reuter, Director at Fraunhofer Institute for Wind Energy and Energy Systems North-West. The research institute for wind energy and energy system technology is focussed on wind and solar energy and the integration of renewable energies into energy supply structures. The researchers are aware of Asian copycats of the various energies and they warn of Chinese enterprises taking over knowledge and knowhow through acquiring Western-based industries. 

“The Chinese are already on the market”, observes IWES Director Reuter when talking to Offshore WIND about the need for protection of the European market against unfair competition. Already in 2011 there were 7 Chinese companies among the top 15 manufacturers according to the 2011 BTM report. Reuter referred to reports in the German press that wind turbine manufacturer Vestas is vulnerable for take over. So far Vestas’ CEO Ditlev Engel declined to comment on reports.

Mr Reuter observes that, so far, the West-European market is better in manufacturing components for the rather complex wind energy. In fact, the snag is in easy or free access to money for investments, which leads to a huge competitive advantage. To Mr Reuter’s mind, politicians should be made aware of that and also that technology and knowledge can be bought out by Chinese companies. They have already proven to be able to manufacture cheap solar photovoltaic modules, which, he added, had already caused the bankruptcy of some German solar panel factories.

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Remain ahead

“It is time to hurry up to remain ahead in research and development of wind energy, and for politicians to support this kind of renewable energy as well”, Mr Reuter said. He is aware of the fact that the current financial situation makes it hard to construct new wind energy farms onshore and offshore and to keep European players competitive.

As it is, Fraunhofer IWES can be assured of a diverse market. Its research activities focus on systems technology and grid integration, energy economy and grid operation, control engineering and energy storage systems, bio energy systems technology and development of optimised rotor blades. Their activities also involve wind turbine simulation and evaluation.

Mr Reuter: “It’s about how to manufacture solar and wind energy in the most cost efficient way. It entails the situation of wind turbines on and offshore, the local impact, the storage needed and the transport locally and globally.” There have been days recently where up to 50% of Germany’s energy use has come from solar energy production. To date solar energy production is more cost efficient than wind energy. Printing solar cells for solar panels is not so very complex and combined with favourable light and temperatures makes it easy to choose for this kind of renewable energy.

Potential of wind energy

However, the German government thinks the potential of wind energy big enough to support construction of wind farms. The wind energy sector and research centres prove that the wind energy market can become more cost-effective and more profitable, that it is already innovative and that it offers substantial employability. It is expected that offshore wind energy will be 30% cheaper in 2020 than it is today.

It can be done through automated construction of components. Just as in the construction of wings of an aeroplane and helicopter blades were made individually in the past, making rotor blades will have to be automated in the future. Technologies are, however, continuously advancing.

OW 11 compleet.jpg 32 2“The alpha ventus project offers everyone involved in offshore wind huge advantages in terms of knowledge and experience, but science is developed elsewhere as well.”

Fraunhofer IWES provides RWE, Vattenfall and other stakeholders in the energy sector with the tools to help their work in the offshore wind energy market, before actually getting offshore. The research institute tests complete systems and new support systems, monopiles, turbines, blades, the logistic process and much else onshore and offshore wind related.

“Knowledge and people are moving around”, Reuter said talking about the ever improving technologies internationally. He observes that the wind energy sector in Germany is lucky to have politicians who support development and use of renewables, wind energy included. “It is a different motivation”, he commented on learning about hesitance to support wind energy in the Netherlands. “It is a pity to see what is happening there”, he said.


Research centres keep abreast of the latest developments and share thoughts, knowledge and development results at conferences, publications and elsewhere. Mr Reuter:We cooperate, but sometimes there is a healthy competition on who has the best ideas. Everybody had specific knowledge in his own field and rightfully claims credit for results in research and development. Overall, it works pretty well.”

Fraunhofer IWES may be considered as being the relatively new kid on the block. It was established early January, 2009, when it incorporated the Fraunhofer Center for Wind Energy and Maritime Technologies (CWMT) in Bremerhaven. That institute was a joint venture of Bremen-based Fraunhofer IFAM and Darmstadt-based Fraunhofer LBF. Mid 2009 Fraunhofer IWES merged with the Institute for Solar Supply Technology I SET in Kassel.

Fraunhofer IWES has been given a five year period for development, setting up two project groups in Hannover and Oldenburg and to employ a staff of over 250 scientists, engineers, non-technical staff and students for research and development for national and international partners involved in all kinds of renewable energy sources, biogas included. Their activities cover construction, manufacturing, storage, integration of renewables in regular energy supplies and more. In 2011, the available annual budget for that was €30m.

The state Hesse was kind enough to co-finance the five year start-up phase of Fraunhofer IWES, but the parent company federal engineering research institution Fraunhofer Gesellschaft may be considered as a firm support as well. This institution has over 20,000 employees and an annual turnover of over €1.8bn. The institute is confident that the financial situation will be a base on which to continue the 10% dynamic annual increase, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft has seen in the past years. As yet, it is the largest applied research organisation in Europe involved in applied research for private and public enterprises.


The relatively new Fraunhofer institute is closely connected with the Kassel University. The focus in research is on renewable energies and energy efficiency. Professor Peter Zacharias and his scientific crew’s target at the university is on power electronics and converter technologies in the framework of the “Competence Centre Distributed Electrical Energy Supply Technology”. The Kassel University has also established new university chairs aiming to give an impulse to further strengthening of the economic and scientific energy systems technology cluster in the Kassel region. There is also close co-operation with universities in Saarbrücken, Bremen, Oldenburg and Hanover.

No doubt, the German economy will benefit from all activities done by Fraunhofer IWES and its parent company.

Janny Kok