In order to take advantage of its technological advance, the European wind industry is focused on offshore wind. Although challenging from a technical standpoint and even if not applicable to every EU country, this option enables larger developers to overcome most onshore land limitations. Since the industry thrived on subsidized premium prices paid for wind electricity in Europe, costlier offshore wind options provide justifications for sustaining high prices.
Consequently, the current research in European wind turbine designs seeks to build larger machines. Per unit installed, these are likely to limit the cost of their offshore foundations. As the power of a wind turbine is multiplied by four when its rotor diameter is doubled, added productivity can be obtained. A reduced number of wind turbines will impact maintenance costs as well. This can be particularly relevant considering their more difficult access and operations in corrosive marine environments.
Under such circumstances, neither wind turbines exports nor their integration to support the developing world's growing energy needs will be achieved. While new wind installation rates on the European continent are slowing down, less then a third of the world's 486 GW operational wind capacity remained on EU-grounds in 2016 (source: GWEC, WWEA).
The Sahara Trade Winds provide an ideal setting for wind technologies to expand into developing countries. Within Europe, high offshore wind costs and the saturation to further wind developments by fossil generating capacities raised some levels of concerns within the industry. A drop of wind turbine orders in Germany and Spain over a decade ago shifted the market to the USA’s 82 GW and China’s staggering 168 GW installed wind generating capacities. From the year 2010, China became the global wind energy leader, producing and installing approximately 50% of World markets. In 2015, China surpassed the European Union in terms of total installed capacity.
Before expanding to the US and Asia, wind power industries initiated in Denmark, Germany and Spain were on a geographical path demonstrating the importance of accessing the Atlantic trade winds. From a bottom-up perspective, regionally integrated wind industries can consolidate North Africa's economic growth. As a base for large wind projects, the Sahara coastline provides ideal grounds for a capacity built-up, enabling an entire wind energy industry to be transferred. Based on favorable economics and the creation of local jobs, the Sahara Wind project enables wind energy to sustainably spread in developing countries.
Spanish and Chinese wind industries demonstrated that manufacturing transfers from Germany and Denmark provided significant cost reductions. Building upon such experience, wind power generated in exceptionally good wind regions through dedicated machines, manufactured locally at lower labor costs are likely to be very competitive.
By substantially boosting the region’s economic prospects, benefits provided by an enhanced electricity access would stabilize rather desolate areas. Within today's tumultuous context, the inclusive energy security of an interconnected African and European continent can be significantly improved.
Since wind turbines represent over 80% of the Sahara Wind project's investments with 20% remaining for the HVDC line, dedicated low-cost wind turbine designs will enhance competitiveness. In fact, several projects of the size of Sahara Wind's (10-GW Mega Wind Farms connected to HVDC lines) are built in China's inner-Mongolia region. As other ones are considered in the United States, good precedents have been set in local wind turbine components manufacturing. Such integration levels open critical debates on how to comprehensively meet growing electricity needs of developing countries.