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Reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change requires a substantial increase in the share of energy production from renewable sources. Our young people are demanding that we make the transition to renewable energy quickly, and decision-makers have an obligation to act.
Globally in the markets where we operate, we are starting to see positive policy statements coming forward from Governments to increase renewable build out. For instance, in the US, President Biden wants to enact a Clean Energy Standard - looking at 80% clean electricity by 2030 and 100% by 2035. To reach the 80x30 goal, the US will need to add between 60-80 GW of new clean power every year.
Supportive zero carbon policies are very encouraging. However, to meet these targets we need to overcome the existing challenges associated with permitting processes which threaten to delay the transition to renewable energy at the pace required.
Let’s take wind for instance. Wind will make a large contribution to this transition globally. In most markets, the process from initial consultation to acquiring a permit normally takes around five years for a wind farm, and in some cases longer if there are appeal processes. This is simply taking far too long. To deploy renewables at the pace required we need to look at fast-tracking permitting to help reduce timescales.
Accordingly, there should be flexibility in a projects design, particularly the height of towers, the size of the rotor blades and the location of turbines within the approved wind farm. Providing this flexibility will allow us to maximise technological progress and realise the full clean energy production value of a project.
One market that we can look towards to see what good permitting looks like is Sweden. Wind power is a central part of the Swedish energy supply and will play an important role in the countries net zero by 2045 target. The use of “box” permitting in Sweden – the ability to obtain a permit without specifying fixed locations for wind turbines - is very important in enabling the expansion of renewables to take place in an environmentally and energy efficient way.
As part of the box permit, we must state the project area, maximum number of turbines, maximum tip height, restricted areas within the project area and the maximum footprint of the infrastructure. However, we do have the flexibility to optimise the layout and increase or decrease the rotor size and hub height. It also enables us to use the latest turbine technology to optimise the layout of developments and to maximise the megawatts in the permit, as well as make changes to the infrastructure at a later stage of the process to ensure that we optimize the yield without lengthening the process.
A box permit gives us the opportunity to reach a lower levelized cost of energy (LCOE) and optimises the value of the project all the way to financial close. For example, at our Gubbaberget project, for which we originally applied for thirteen turbines, we have been able to optimise the yield by more than >1% in the final design stages prior to financial close. Our final design consisted of only twelve turbines, but the revised design was able to generate a greater yield than our original plans. This ability to maximise the MW output means that we can add more green energy where possible, helping to speed up the transition to clean energy.
Ultimately, across all markets, the permitting process must be reviewed. It needs to be shortened, simplified and made more legally certain. To utilize renewables as efficiently as possible and increase the speed at which we transition to renewable energy, it’s crucial that it becomes more flexible. Looking to different models, such as the Swedish model, may be the way forward for other markets.