Germany seeks to jolt its stalled wind industry with new offshore plan

Compared to 2017, the development of wind turbines slowed down in Germany. [EPA-EFE/MAURITZ ANTIN]

Germany’s wind sector is barely growing any more. To achieve its self-imposed 65% target for renewables, Germany has made the promise, for the first time, to heavily expand its offshore wind farms. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Germany could press ahead with the planned expansion of offshore wind farms in the coming years to a greater extent than previously planned.

Instead of reaching the fixed 15,000 megawatts (MW) of wind energy, it is possible to ensure Germany reaches 20,000 MV, officials said.

This is according to Thomas Bareiß, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, who was speaking on Wednesday (12 June) at the German Renewable Energy Summit in Berlin.

If confirmed, this would be a first for the renewable energy sector. The German wind industry have long supported such an increase so that Germany can achieve its 65% target for renewables by 2030. At the end of 2017, 36.2% of Germany’s electricity consumption came from renewables such as wind and solar.

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Although 136 new wind turbines were installed at sea last year, the expansion rate has slowed compared to 2017.

Wind energy currently amounts to approximately 17% of Germany’s electricity, covering more than 80% of the power needs of all private households. However, the wind energy sector needs to continue growing if Germany wants to achieve its climate targets.

A recent study by Trendresearch, a market research institute, concluded that if the German government does not increase its current expansion targets of offshore wind farms, the industry will lose over 8,000 jobs by 2035.

The offshore wind sector is facing a problem. The last tender for the construction of new wind turbines took place in 2018 and the next round is not scheduled until 2021.

However, as it will take around four years between planning and commissioning large wind farms, there is a risk construction will lull from 2022 onwards.

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In a fresh sign of new energy trends in Europe, Belgium plans to double the amount of its waters made available for offshore wind farms, while Denmark revealed the intention to build enough turbines to power its seven largest cities.

Massive slump expected for onshore wind energy

On land, the wind industry is confronted with a far greater problem, which could lead to a massive drop in new projects as of 2020.

From next year, wind turbines worth a total capacity of 4,000 MW will fall out of the state subsidy scheme, which was guaranteed 20 years ago after the introduction of the German Renewable Energy Law (EEG).

By 2025, a quarter of the wind power industry could be cut off when older turbines become unprofitable. “This will have a massive impact on the onshore wind industry,” said Luise Pörtner, the Managing Director of BayWa r.e. Wind, a leading global renewable energy developer.

The construction of new onshore wind farms is already stagnating. In 2018, newly expanded wind power capacity was less than half the amount seen in the previous years.

Reasons include a lack of available land for new project development and very strict approval procedures imposed by local and national administrations.

Resistance by parts of the population is also hampering new construction projects. About half of the planned turbines cannot be realised because of complaints by citizens, according to the German Land Wind Energy Agency (Fachagentur Windkraft an Land).

By the time these complaints are dealt with, and once the installation of new wind turbines has been approved, the registered technology is often already outdated.

This is despite an overall support for wind power among the wider German population. “Actually, the vast majority of the population, about 90%, is in favour of wind turbines,” said Pörtner. “However, there is a relatively noisy and well-organised minority who, for partly justifiable reasons, are resisting the construction of new wind turbines. Many reservations are nonetheless based on lack of information,” she said.

To create greater acceptance for wind turbines, project developers say local populations need to see the benefits. Brandenburg leads the way as the first federal state that is planning a law that would allow wind turbine operators to pay an annual lump sum of €10,000 per wind turbine to neighbouring municipalities.

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What about old wind turbines?

Meanwhile, there is great uncertainty as to how onshore wind energy will develop after 2020.

There are several solutions. “We need a great deal of re-powering,” said Pörtner, referring to the replacement of outdated wind turbines.

However, things are not that easy. Approval procedure for wind turbines have become much stricter, and according to estimates, 45% of turbines approved two decades ago, would be refused today under the new rules.

Another alternative to maintaining onshore facilities is long-term power supply agreements, known as corporate PPAs (Power Purchase Agreement).

With this, the current collector guarantees the plant operator with a set consumer price for a certain period of time. However, the contracts are considered risky because no one knows how the price of electricity will develop. And investors are afraid of constraining themselves to obligations that last over five years, long before investments in new wind turbines pay off.

In his speech, State Secretary Bareiß said it was the task of politicians to create reliable expansion paths for renewable energies.

However, the extent to which new wind farms in the North Sea and Baltic Sea can be deployed will also depend on progress made in expanding the German power grid.

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[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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