Statkraft forecasts sun and wind across Europe, to power a greener future
Solar and wind power today are where the automotive industry was in the 1920s: still in their infancy, but ready to change the world as we know it, according to Stefan-Jörg Göbel, who is responsible for wind and solar for Statkraft in continental Europe, including markets such as Germany, Spain and the Netherlands.
In the past 20 years Statkraft has already built up successful wind and solar operations in the Nordics, the UK, Ireland and Brazil. Now Statkraft is expanding its ambitious solar and wind development goals to continental Europe.
Göbel has been with Statkraft for the past 18 years, joining just after the company began its foray into the world of turbines. He says he took the job because of his passion for energy and energy markets, which he describes as “simply fascinating.”
“When I joined in 2002, I saw Statkraft as a company that was ahead of the industry. And so I spent the next 15 years working in the company’s energy trading team, until two years ago when I shifted focus to wind and solar.”
The time was ripe, as Europe had experienced rapid development of wind and solar power towards 2020. The cost of the technology had fallen rapidly; so rapidly, in fact, that it had become the cheapest energy source per kilowatt hour. An industry once thought to be an alternative and heavily subsidized side-project for governments was turned on its head.
“This marked a huge paradigm shift. Suddenly the investors wanted in and so did the governments. Cost was a big factor. And so was climate.”
The combination of rising climate concerns and declining technology costs has paved the way for even cleaner, greener and cheaper wind and solar power across Europe. Statkraft was freshly armed with its new wind and solar strategy in 2018, which stood for strong ambitions to spread across the continent.
“Our ambition to grow in Europe is a good and strong strategic move, especially when combined with our expertise and industrial role. Wind and solar are the future, and I find it super interesting to be a part of building this up,” says Göbel.
It’s still early days for wind and solar
Göbel’s earlier comparison to the automotive industry is an apt one if you reflect on the history of wind and solar. Relative to an average human’s lifetime, the development of these clean energy sources may seem slow, but Göbel is quick to dismiss that way of thinking.
“It’s really not so long,” he says. “If you think about the first wind farms 20 years ago and the fact that solar development really took off within the past 10 years, it’s gone very quickly.”
And there’s massive development ahead, Göbel forecasts
Nuclear and coal power are being phased out in most European countries. This year the EU agreed the Green Deal with its ambitious climate targets, and governments worldwide are embracing renewable power as the solution to reducing CO2 emissions.
“Renewables are the one thing to decarbonize the globe. Thanks to them, we will have cleaner air and a better atmosphere, and will reduce climate change. At the same time, it will be affordable and secure.”
While Göbel’s statements are backed by the climate goals of nations including Italy, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and the Nordics, where Statkraft is making headway with its renewables rollout, it’s important to acknowledge the current limitations of these power sources, which Göbel describe as “intermittent.”
“We need something in addition, a third leg to stand on over the next decades, to serve as a backup when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine,” he explains, as he points to gas-fired power as a short-term solution to filling those gaps.
But Göbel doesn’t believe we’ll need such fossil back-up forever. The automobile eventually replaced the horse and carriage, and in the long term hydrogen, batteries and hydropower will be the backbone of a 100% renewables energy market.
Statkraft says it will develop 8 gigawatts of wind and solar power by 2025
That means that it will use its experience and expertise to develop and build what it takes to bring this capacity online, and once it has, it will tackle the next thousand megawatts.
“This is a business which I believe will dominate the rest of the century, and Statkraft is well positioned due to its role across the entire value chain,” states Göbel.
And the customers are only getting hungrier. From the players in the commodities market to the customers interested in buying the asset once developed, such as a local municipalities and energy companies, the number of interested parties is growing rapidly.
“We’re also seeing a new crop of customers who want to procure power from the asset directly, like Google and Microsoft. They aim to decarbonize, and at the same time their data centres require a whole lot of power.”
It’s the classic pickle big tech finds itself in, but it’s no longer unsolvable. If Statkraft builds it, they will come, entering into power purchase agreements (PPA) with the company to ensure a steady supply of green energy.
European governments embrace renewables as they move towards a greener future
As Göbel rightly points out, governments will come and go, and their different conceptions along with them.
“That’s why it’s so important that wind and solar are cheap, because regardless of who is in office, they will remain fundamental in our energy mix because of their affordability.”
Already affordable and climate-friendly in their relatively short lifetimes, wind and solar have surpassed the automotive industry in terms of pace of development. With backing across Europe, it’s just a matter of time before this greener way of powering society spreads to all corners of the earth. Göbel has no doubts about it, because frankly our planet depends on it. Statkraft may be the largest generator in Europe, but this mission is far bigger:
“It’s a job for mankind.”