Wind energy: The best locations in Europe

How it works

Wind turbines use the kinetic energy of the incoming air. Modern wind power plants consist of a mast, a nacelle with the mechanical equipment, and the rotor, normally with three rotor blades. They start rotating at a wind speed of 2 metres per second (m/s). A wind power plant begins producing electricity from a wind speed of 4 m/s. The maximum power output is reached at 12 to 15 m/s. During storms, the wind turbine is usually switched off to prevent damage. The tips of the rotor blades can reach speeds exceeding 200 km/h. Electricity production depends on the wind speed (electricity production proportional to the third power of the wind speed). If the wind speed is doubled, 23 or 8 times more energy is produced.

The technology of wind turbines is relatively mature. However, there is still room for improvement, particularly in the areas of cost-effective design, production technology, overall efficiency and in operation and maintenance concepts, which result in lower production costs. The service life of a plant is between 20 and 25 years. The plant can then be repowered (replaced by a more modern, efficient plant) or dismantled. An average wind turbine consists of 60-65% concrete, 30-35% steel, 2-3% composite materials (e.g. glass fibre reinforced plastics) and less than 1% copper.

Increasing output

During its service life, a wind power plant generates about 40 times as much energy as was required for its manufacture, operation and disposal. The output of individual wind turbines has increased sharply over the past 25 years: Onshore (on land) from 0.5 MW to 7 MW. The choice of the power output and turbine tower height largely depends on the local wind conditions. Offshore (at sea) turbines have a capacity of 5 up to 14 MW.

The Haliade-X made by the US manufacturer General Electric is currently one of the most powerful wind turbine. It is able to generate around 45% more energy than any other offshore wind turbine currently available on the market. A 14-megawatt generator ensures this. As a result, offshore wind farms could operate with fewer individual turbines in the future. One of the first locations to use this wind turbine will be the port area of Rotterdam.

Our wind energy

Axpo is the largest Swiss producer of renewable energies. In addition to hydropower, solar energy and biomass, we also use the power of the wind at the best locations in Europe.

3 gigawatts of wind energy in Europe by 2030

Axpo develops, builds and operates onshore wind farms across Europe. We work along the entire value chain in the wind business and aim to expand a total of 3 GW of onshore capacity by 2030. In addition to the operation of plants and the marketing of electricity, our business model also includes the development and construction of wind farms as well as their management. 

Axpo benefits here from the extensive experience of the Volkswind Group, which has been part of Axpo since 2015. Our experienced team can refer to more than 80 wind farms in Germany and France with a total installed capacity of over 1,470 MW. In France, Axpo is one of the leading companies in the development and construction of wind farms.

Wind energy in Switzerland

On the Lutersarni hill (Entlebuch), it has been operating a wind turbine with a gross capacity of 2.3 MW since summer 2013. At 120 metres, it is about the same height as the Prime Tower in Zurich and produces electricity for the equivalent of 600 four-person households per year (around 2.5 million kWh).

Another wind project on the Lindenberg on the border between the cantons of Aargau and Lucerne, which is being realised jointly with AEW and SIG, is well advanced. 

Six other wind farm projects in Central Switzerland and Aargau are in the planning stage. The potentially 20 or so turbines will one day produce clean electricity for over 30,000 households.

Wind energy offshore

The Global Tech I wind farm has been generating electricity for around 445,000 households far out in the North Sea since September 2015 with 80 wind turbines of the 5 MW class. Axpo has a 24.1 percent interest in this offshore wind farm. Global Tech I was one of the first wind farms to be built in the German North Sea, and is one of the so-called "far offshore wind farms" owing to its location 140 kilometres north of the logistics base in Emden.

At a water depth of 38 to 41 metres, the wind turbines excluding the rotor reach a total height of around 132 metres from the seabed. As a result, the rotor hub is thus approximately 92 meters above sea Ievel. With its three blades, the rotor has a diameter of 116 metres and covers an area the size of one and a half football fields. The tips of the rotors can reach a maximum speed of 320 kilometres per hour making them nearly as fast as today's Formula 1 racing cars.

The wind turbines cover an area of 41 square kilometres, which is just over half the size of the city of Zurich. They begin turning at wind speeds as low as 4 metres per second. They produce their peak output at a wind speed of 12.5 metres per second (45 km/h). At wind speeds of 90 km/h and more they are shut off for safety reasons.

With this commitment, Axpo aims to further promote the creation of value from renewable energies in Europe.

Further commitments

Axpo is not only involved in the construction of plants and the production of electricity, but is also a leading marketer of renewable energies throughout Europe. Axpo markets a total of around 14 terawatt hours of solar and wind energy on behalf of its customers. With long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs), Axpo is ensuring further growth in the renewable energies sector. Axpo has in-depth expertise in the area of PPAs and supports numerous corporate customers in over 30 countries in Europe, North America and Asia in reducing CO2 emissions.

Wind energy from A-Z

Wind power has many different facets. Here’s a quick overview on a few important keywords – but first let’s provide a close up look from an unusual perspective.

The dimensions of a wind power plant

Wind energy keywords

Rated output is the capacity of the wind turbine generator at full capacity measured in megawatt (MW). Wind turbines reach the rated output value at various wind speeds.

Onshore wind turbines are located on land and generate wind energy from mainland wind.

Offshore wind turbines benefit from the high wind speed at sea. They are located off coastal areas. Axpo holds interests in 80 turbines with a total capacity of 400 MW in the North Sea.

The site defines a coherent area suitable for the use of wind energy. The site offers space for at least 3 wind turbines.

Wind energy plant refers to the wind power plant or the wind turbine. The facility transforms the power of wind into electrical energy and feeds it into the power grid.

A wind power plant comprises the following elements:

  • Rotor blades: The rotor blades of a wind power plant convert the kinetic energy of air particles into rotation energy. Most wind energy rotors have three blades.
  • Rotor: The rotor relays the rotation energy to a generator that transforms it into electricity.
  • Nacelle: The nacelle houses the hub, the brake gear, and the generator.
  • Tower: The tower supports the mass of the nacelle and the rotor blades and must withstand the enormous static load coming from the wind.
  • Foundation: The tower is erected on a foundation. In order to ensure the stability of a wind energy plant, different constructions are sometimes required depending on the conditions of the underground.

The wind farm is an arrangement of three or more wind turbines at one location.

Wind country Switzerland

Switzerland is not a typical wind country, but thanks to technical progress and better political framework conditions, the potential of wind power is massively higher than long thought. New wind turbines are larger and more efficient. They therefore deliver more electricity on the same area. An important advantage of wind power: 2/3 of the electricity is generated in the winter months, i.e. when we consume the most electricity. We should use this advantage in Switzerland for a secure electricity supply. If Switzerland wants to achieve the energy transition, wind power should account for a significantly larger share of Switzerland's power mix. 

There are currently 41 wind turbines in this country, producing around 144 GWh of electricity. The largest wind farm is located on Mont Croisin in the Bernese Jura near St. Imier. There, 16 turbines with a total output of 37.2 MW have been installed. There are other large plants in the Rhone Valley (VS), near Entlebuch (LU) and on the Gütsch above Andermatt (UR).

According to the Energy Strategy 2050+, wind turbines in Switzerland should generate up to 4.3 TWh of electricity from wind power by 2050. 

In order to quantify the potential of wind energy in Switzerland, the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) recently went over the books. In the calculations based on 2012, it had still assumed a potential of 4 terawatt hours (TWh) per year by 2050. The current study commissioned by the federal government, on the other hand, confirms that wind energy has many times this potential: theoretically, it amounts to almost 30 TWh per year. If 30 per cent of this could actually be realised - which would correspond to about 1,000 turbines - wind energy would make a significant contribution of about 9 TWh per year to Switzerland's secure electricity supply. The dependence on foreign countries in winter would be much lower.  

Axpo also estimates the potential of wind energy in Switzerland to be higher and wants to invest more in this area and build more plants.

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