world news With Much of the World’s Economy Slowed Down, Green Energy Powers On

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After a two-hour boat trip from Lowestoft, a seaside town on the east coast of England, giant wind mills more than 500 feet high loomed out of the mist like enormous sea creatures. High atop the towers, technicians in helmets and red-and-black protective suits were visible, fine-tuning the machines and hooking them up to the British power system.

Britain has been under various stages of lockdown since March, but work on this wind farm, called East Anglia One, has charged ahead.

But early on, the companies behind the 2.5 billion pound ($3.1 billion) project weren’t so sure.

As the coronavirus was gathering momentum across Europe, managers called a one-day halt in late March to consider whether pushing forward made sense. New health and safety measures would inevitably drain resources.

“We had to do a check and say ‘OK, should the project continue?’ and we asked ourselves with a very open mind,” said Charlie Jordan, the project director for Iberdrola, the Spanish utility developing the project.

The answer was “yes.” Work resumed the next day, and hasn’t stopped.

The fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has many businesses reeling, and the oil and gas industry in particular has been rocked by plummeting prices that have forced it to drastically cut production and lay off workers.

But producers of clean energy are pushing hard to get their projects up and running. They want to start making money on their investments as soon as possible, and while demand for electricity has been reduced by the impact of the virus, renewable power tends to win out over polluting sources in electricity systems because of low costs and favorable regulatory rules.

While crews fixed the huge turbines to the seabed off the English coast in April, Iberdrola began producing power from what it says is Europe’s largest solar energy facility, in western Spain.

Mr. Jordan, the offshore project manager, said that he and his colleagues figured that they could take steps to keep risks under control. Among other things, contractors rented holiday cabins and reached agreements with hotels near Lowestoft, the operations base, so that they could house some of the offshore workers there and keep them isolated. Workers were taken out by boats to the wind farm for 12-hour day and night shifts.

So far, no one working on the project has become ill with the coronavirus, according to Mr. Jordan.

All of the 102 turbines are now installed in an area about 25 miles off the coastline. The nearly 250-foot blades on top of these monsters can spin out enough power to supply around 600,000 homes, according to the company.

Demand for the equipment for these projects is putting pressure on makers of gear to keep their factories churning. Vestas Wind Systems, for instance, is striving to keep a global network that includes plants in Colorado, China, Denmark and elsewhere largely open to meet a record first-quarter order book of 34.1 billion euros for its giant electric power-generating windmills and services.

“The outlook for renewables looks really quite resilient, despite all the Covid restrictions,” said Sam Arie, a utilities analyst at UBS, an investment bank. “We have seen a few companies with minor interruptions,” he added. “But relative to other sectors the impacts here have been very limited.”


The main reasons for the difference: Businesses have also consolidated, creating stronger players. Siemens Gamesa, for instance, was formed in 2017 through the merger of the wind interests of the German industrial giant Siemens with those of Gamesa, a Spanish company.

The industry has also continued to bring down costs. The turbines at East Anglia One are 15 times as powerful as those installed in the first offshore wind farms almost 30 years ago, and so they produce much more revenue per unit. In the United States wind power often ranks as the least expensive source of electricity, according to Supriya Subramanian, a UBS analyst.

Industry executives argue that renewable energy is now mainstream, not a fringe player, and this gives them a stronger chance of emerging from this crisis in better shape. When looking at options for electric power, a vital force for all economies, governments and other customers often favor green energy options not only to reduce emissions blamed for climate change, but also because they are often cheaper.

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