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Breezy year boosts wind power output by nearly 30%

New wind farms are again under construction around Finland after a brief hiatus.

Tuulivoimapuisto.
Wind turbines in Åland, one of Finland's windiest areas. Image: Kari Rissa

No new wind energy farms have begun operations in Finland since 2017, yet the amount of electricity produced with the wind has risen briskly over the past year, the Uutissuomalainen newspaper group reports on Friday.

The industry group Finnish Energy says that wind power production rose by almost 30 percent between May 2018 and May this year. That output is set to rise as a number of new wind turbines are currently being built in Finland.

Production subsidies are only granted to wind farms that began producing electricity by the end of 2017. However wind energy is no longer dependent on subsidies for financially viability.

"Production costs have dropped so sharply that a lot of wind power capacity is being installed without subsidies," says Anna Mikkonen, CEO of the Finnish Wind Power Association (FWPA). She points out that some of the turbines that became eligible for subsidies as they were completed by the end of 2017 did not actually get up to full output until sometime last year.

The trade body's figures show that cumulative installed wind energy capacity has risen from nearly nothing a decade ago to 500 megawatts (MW) in 2013, then surpassing 2,000 MW last year. That is still far behind neighbouring Sweden, which had more than 7,500 MW installed by the end of last year, according to Wind Power Monthly.

The number of installed turbines has climbed from just over 100 in 2009 to 700 last year. Their average size has also increased steadily, now around 3 MW each. The heaviest concentration of turbines is in North Ostrobothnia in western Finland, which accounts for 42 percent of all capacity. The municipalities of Kalajoki and Raahe are hotbeds of wind power, with nearly 400 MW of capacity between them.

As of the end of last year, wind power accounted for 6.7 percent of Finland's electricity consumption.

Climate change brings brisker breezes

The Finnish Wind Atlas site, established by the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI), notes that average wind speeds in Finland are gradually rising as a result of climate change. Meteorologists and those in the wind power sector agree that the past year has been windier than the year before.

For instance, in February the weather station at Helsinki Airport recorded average winds of 5.9 metres per second, compared to the long-term average of 4.1 m/s. In June the corresponding figures were 4.9 and 3.8 m/s. The winter months tend to be windier than summer in Finland.

"When the weather is dominated by low-pressure systems, the average wind speed is normally higher than in high-pressure conditions," explains FMI meteorologist Niina Niinimäki.

At the start of this year, the FMI clocked the highest wind speed ever recorded in Finland, 32.5 m/s. It was tracked on 2 January at Bogskär, just off the island of Kökar in the maritime province of Åland between mainland Finland and Sweden. That was just under the hurricane level of 33 m/s.

Sometimes gales can be too much of a good thing for wind turbines. When winds begin to approach 30 m/s, most wind park operators phase turbines out of use in order to prevent damage. However this has rarely been necessary in Finland.

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