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January 18, 2021

NorthWind: inside Norway’s new wind power research centre

In December this year, Norwegian Minister of Petroleum and Energy Tina Bru announced an investment of NOK120m (€11.3m) in a new wind power research centre in Norway. The centre, dubbed NorthWind, will seek to improve existing wind power technologies and increase offshore clusters of turbines. We look at the project and find out what the future of wind looks like in Norway.

By Scarlett Evans

While it is typically known for its oil and gas reserves- currently contributing around 17% of the national GDP- Norway’s wind power has great potential for the country’s energy mix, specifically if offshore wind opportunities are taken advantage of. In a press release on NorthWind’s opening, Bru said that increased investment into research and development is necessary for the country to truly make an impact on the global wind energy market, as well as effectively lower costs and environmental impact of the industry. The centre is a step in achieving this, and will focus in part on remote diagnostics and infrastructure requirements in the transitioning of tidal and wind power into the existing grid. 

The latest investment showcases the intention of creating a long-term research centre, and will see contributions from researchers, industry members, and government in the pursuit of a robust industry. Led by the research institute SINTEF, partners for the project include NTNU (Norwegian University of Science and Technology), NINA (The Norwegian Institute for Nature Research), NGI (Norwegian Geotechnical Institute), and UiO (University of Oslo).

Norway’s NorthWind

Speaking with John Tande, chief scientist at SINTEF and project lead for the centre, he says the NOK 120m from the Research Council of Norway will be channelled straight into research.

“This includes both in-kind funding of our own research to carry out user case studies as part of the centre activities, and cash to finance research by the research partners within the centre,” he says. “The work is organized in five work packages (WPs). WP1 (digital twin) and WP2 (sustainable) are crosscutting and addressing both land-based and offshore wind energy. The other WPs (structures, marine and electrical) are on offshore technology. The user case studies are carried out in close collaboration with the industry partners as an integrated part of the WPs.”

In addition to the development of novel technologies and solutions, the centre has also said that it will provide at least 200 peer-reviewed articles, and a platform for ‘a knowledge-based debate and policy’ on wind energy – maintaining a transparent view into the progress of its work. Looking forward, Tande says that the hope is for the centre to not only provide deployable wind power solutions, but will also contribute to job creation, support UN sustainability goals, and increase efficiency in the industry.

“The research is expected to result in at least 20 innovations that will provide a basis for new jobs in Norway,” he says. “[It will also bring] increased exports, technology for cost-competitive floating wind farms before 2030, and the sustainable development of wind energy with respect for nature and society both on- and offshore.”

In addition, it is hoped that the centre will provide an attractive hub for up and coming talent, with NTNU rector Anne Borg saying that it will provide “an important launching pad for students in the field”. Bringing together both research and development, it is clear that the centre is intended as a focal point for Norway’s blossoming wind industry.

Wind power in Norway

Tande also highlights that the centre can help increase public acceptance of wind technology. While Norway is a frontrunner in its use of renewable energy – generating almost 98% of its power from hydro energy – the establishment of a significant wind industry has been hindered by an aversion to the turbines, which many label visual pollution following a boom in installation over the last decade.

Bloomberg reported that an increasing percentage of the population have voiced their preference for renewable alternatives such as hydro over wind, with a survey finding that only 36% felt positively about onshore wind as an energy source, down from around 84% in 2011. It is this anti-turbine sentiment that has partially forced efforts to turn to offshore sites for turbine farms, and according to Tande, it is a sector with great opportunity.

“There are presently no offshore wind farms in operation in Norway, but this is soon to change,” he says. “By the end of 2022, HyWind Tampen will be in operation – this will be an 88MW floating wind farm. Recently the Norwegian government also announced an opening of two fields for the development of offshore wind farms, with a total max installed capacity of 4500MW.”

The Hywind Tampen project will be a world first: a floating wind farm used to power offshore oil and gas operations. Specifically, it is intended to provide energy for offshore sites in the Snorre and Gullfaks region in the Norwegian North Sea. Such a project will also pave the way for similar projects seeking to integrate gas and wind power – as will the opening up of Utsira Nord and Sørlige Nordsjø II for offshore wind project applications. 

Such a pipeline shows optimism for the industry’s future is relatively high.

“A recent study identified that the offshore wind industry has the potential to become one of Norway’s most important export industries in the future,” Tande says. “In the best case scenario, turnover for offshore wind companies registered in Norway is forecast to €2.1bn/year in the near term to 2025, increasing to €7.2 bn/year toward the end of the 2040s.”

“The centre’s innovations will benefit Norwegian industry and the world at large,” says Alexandra Bech Gjørv, CEO of SINTEF, in the press release. “Offshore wind has the potential to meet the world’s electricity needs many times over and innovations cutting its costs will help bring this renewable energy to the market even faster.”

Wind power is clearly an up and comer in Norway and NorthWind, anticipated to be in operation between 2020 and 2028, will be a crucial stepping stone to getting there. 

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