Germany and offshore wind: a slowing trailblazer

Offshore wind energy plays a decisive role in both Berlin and Brussels in achieving climate targets. [EPA-EFE | Karsten Klama]

The European Commission will present its offshore wind strategy on Thursday (19 November), mirroring key elements of Germany’s own plans. Will this be enough to drive the energy transition? EURACTIV Germany reports.

Germany currently hosts two dozen offshore wind farms, located in the North Sea and Baltic Sea off the country’s coast.

And although new turbines are added every year, the expansion has tended to slow down: whereas 1,800 offshore wind turbines were connected to the grid in 2017, only 1,400 new ones were added by 2020.

An amendment to the Wind Energy at Sea Act (WindSeeG), passed by the Bundestag in early November, provides for a steady expansion of offshore wind in the coming years.

By 2030, 65% of Germany’s electricity needs are to be covered by renewable energies, but in 2019, that share was stuck at 42%.

LEAK: EU aims for 25-fold growth in offshore wind by 2050

Offshore wind capacity in the EU “should be multiplied by 25 times by 2050” as the European Commission looks for all possible ways of boosting the share of renewables in energy consumption, according to a draft policy document seen by EURACTIV.

Still a long way to go

The EU strategy on offshore energy is moving in a similar direction. By 2030 around 40% of the EU’s electricity demand will have to come from renewables  – almost double today’s share – in order to meet the EU’s climate ambitions.

Offshore energies like wind power, tidal and wave, will play a decisive role in achieving this goal. This is why the European Commission believes offshore capacity “should be multiplied by 25 times by 2050” to reach the bloc’s climate goals.

However, Green MEP Michael Bloss told EURACTIV Germany that the financing plan for the expansion of offshore wind power is not sufficient.

Investments in renewable energies should not be subsidised by the state and come from private loans instead, Bloss believes. But in the current economic crisis, public money will be necessary to ensure investments are made at all, he says, calling on EU member states to tap into the bloc’s coronavirus recovery fund to finance offshore wind development projects.

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Grid expansion on land

A key factor to unlock offshore wind is to build the necessary infrastructure on land, because the electricity produced off the coast must be fed into the power grid onshore.

Bloss believes there is still a lot of catching up to do in this area. Even though Germany is well positioned compared to other EU countries in terms of offshore electricity production, there is still a lack of transmission grids onshore, he remarked.

To him, this is like putting the cart before the horse. And it raises the question as to why there is such a strong focus on offshore wind, both in Germany and at the European level.

The German Economy Ministry (BMWi), according to its own statements, says offshore wind is the cheapest option for renewable power generation, which justifies an ambitious expansion plan.

But MP Nina Scheer (SPD) fears that focusing too much on one technology risks leading to a delay in the overall expansion of renewable energies.

Instead, she favours decentralised expansion of small-scale renewables like solar panels to accelerate the switch to renewables. “And in doing so, local expansion in the area as part of the broad renewable energy mix is crucial.”

Wind industry 'remained resilient' during COVID-19 crisis

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Scheer explained to EURACTIV Germany that offshore expansion is more dependent on grid construction than decentralised expansion of power generation from renewable energies spread over land.

The expansion planning should not lead to dependence on a power grid that does not yet exist, she argues, saying it is more urgent to systematically align the existing power grid to the fluctuating supply of renewable energies.

She also criticised the lack of incentives for feeding electricity from renewable sources into the grid. In her view, the system introduced in 2016, under which subsidies for renewable energies are put out to tender, has not proven effective.

In those tenders, energy companies compete for contracts to build wind turbines at sea. According to Scheer, the hoped-for price reduction for green electricity has not materialised as a result.

She therefore advocates giving priority to electricity from renewable energies and maintaining the feed-in tariff system according to the German Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG). As a result, different renewable energy sources would be equally promoted, instead of favouring a single technology, she argues.

A faster coal phase-out

MEP Bloss also sees a problem in the German energy mix. “Although Germany is a pioneer in the expansion of offshore wind power, it is one of the biggest consumers of coal. We need to get out of coal faster overall.”

Although the decision to phase out coal has already been made, environmentalists are still unhappy with the 2038 deadline, which they have criticised for being too late. Until then, Germany will continue with coal-fired power, despite the German Renewable Energy Act (EEG) or the European Green Deal.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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