Winds of Change: Industry Leaders Propel Renewables Forward

Renewable and green energy
One of the cleanest alternatives to fossil fuels, how is wind energy being harnessed in pursuit of clean energy goals?

Renewable energy is an ever-evolving area of energy production, with more investment and backing getting behind it as a clean alternative to traditional fossil fuel-based energy sources. This has been further propelled by the equally pressing concerns for environmental sustainability and the long-term impacts of carbon emissions, as wind power presents a viable solution for meeting energy demands while mitigating environmental harm.

Data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) says the amount of electricity generated by wind increased by 265TWh in 2022, up 14%, which is also the second largest growth of all power generation technologies. This is solidified by wind’s long-standing position as the leading non-hydro renewable technology, generating more than 2,100TWh in 2022 — more than all other forms combined.

The benefits of wind power are being realised across numerous industries, including the energy space and data centre areas, due to the need to address climate change and meet sustainability goals.

The winds of change

As a leading data centre company VIRTUS takes sustainability seriously, ensuring growth and development in digitisation by supplying modern, AI ready, scalable data centres is done so with the environment in mind. The first provider to commit to using 100% carbon-zero energy and powering its sites solely with truly renewable energy from wind, solar and tidal sources since 2012, VIRTUS saves around 45 million tonnes of CO2 annually, enough to fill Wembley stadium five times over. 

Its Wustermark Data Centre Campus, currently under construction and set to be operational by 2026, is a testament to VIRTUS renewable energy commitment, specifically wind, scaling green power in close proximity to the site. It is surrounded by wind farms feeding directly to the substation adjacent to the campus, making the most of wind power — which is in abundance across the region — and challenging the company to explore storage options to ensure renewable energy supply is constant.

“The facility is being designed to be AI ready. This means managing sustainable power at scale, supporting rapid and scalable deployments, and resonating with operational needs,” explains VITRUS’ Managing Director for Germany Michael Dada. “Construction will include liquid cooling and immersive cooling capabilities being built into the fabric of the building and flooring strong enough to carry the new pre-populated AI/machine learning (ML) racks that are considerably heavier than those being used today. All of this must be achieved whilst consciously aligning with values that benefit the data centre provider, the customer and wider society responsibilities.

“Wind power is only one of many renewable energy sources that we use to power our data centres.”

Challenges apparent across wind sector

This sentiment is mirrored by Cerianne Cummings, Offshore Wind Market Director at Kent. Having worked specifically in the offshore space for more than a decade, Cerianne has had a front-row seat watching the sector exponentially grow. For example, she acknowledges the UK government's commitment to achieve 50GW offshore wind capacity by 2030, alongside advancements in floating technology, signals a promising future. However, challenges persist, but these present opportunities for innovations like green hydrogen and battery storage. 

“The early uncertainty regarding leasing auctions and Contract for Difference rounds made the business case for investments from the supply chain challenging to justify,” she says, remaining optimistic about offshore wind's trajectory. “The more regular leasing rounds of recent times, combined with the commitment from the government to hold allocation rounds approximately every two years, have made the offshore wind industry a more attractive place to operate as a business.”

Kent is involved in the engineering for approximately 12GW of offshore wind off the UK coast and is providing early engineering support to projects in the Australian market — where there is a long history with offshore oil and gas. Here, Kent has decades of experience supporting the industry and addressing its challenges. 

She adds: “Australia is remote from the existing offshore wind supply chain and generally has a limited supply chain available to deliver large offshore wind projects. We are drawing on our current activities to support oil and gas decommissioning and ongoing engagements with ports.” Because of this work, Australia is ready for the large-scale construction activities that the region’s offshore wind market will need to deliver its significant wind aspirations.

Balancing demand and environmental responsibility

As the wind space continues on its growth trajectory, Cerianne foresees a significant demand in Kent’s services in this area. This comes as the global offshore wind market prepares for a significant challenge in the capacity of the supply chain as governments around the world announce increased offshore wind targets. 

“We are extremely mindful that developing good people in our industry is critical to achieving the world's offshore wind aspirations,” she begins. “The real challenge we have to address is exponential growth, which can be achieved only by implementing more automation and developing ‘smart’ delivery tools. We have a rolling programme of digitisation and innovation — through using our experienced and bright minds, we continually refine and improve our tools, amalgamating decades of practical experience with lessons learned from our current projects.”

Aggreko has also played a supporting role within the wind sector, with this relationship stretching back more than 60 years. However, this is changing due to the pace and necessity of innovation.

Ilyeass El Khattouti is European Sector Leader for Utilities at Aggreko. He says: “The sector now faces a Catch-22 situation with huge ambition, significant funding and resounding support for its rapid growth on one side and a myriad of planning, production, environmental and supply chain challenges on the other. There are billions of pounds’ worth of green energy projects on hold due to grid connection constraints, which clearly could have detrimental impact on Europe’s climate targets. However, there are solutions that can accelerate the scalability and sustainability of offshore wind farms, and we’re investing in them.”

He hastens to add that although hiring in short term solutions is not a new concept, the application of short-term power and temperature control solutions is significantly underutilised.

As the wind industry surges forward, sustainable innovation continues to be at the heart of this movement. Commitments to carbon-neutral operations and significant offshore wind projects exemplify the sector’s transition to cleaner energy sources, despite the challenges in the way. Despite this, innovative solutions and collaborative efforts promise a greener future. As Ilyeass emphasises, strategic investments in scalable and sustainable solutions are essential to overcoming hurdles and accelerating the growth of wind projects. It’s safe to say the winds of change are blowing strong, with the industry poised for continued expansion and environmental impact.

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