Germany Windmill. Credit: Sonia Narang

Wind turbine in rural Germany. Credit: Sonia Narang

Germany a Wind Power Leader, Monocle 24, Aired September 26, 2012
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The small town of Husum in northern Germany hosted its biennial international wind energy trade fair in September. The expo drew about 36,000 visitors and about 1,200 exhibitors from 90 countries.

Spread out over eight tents and a large convention center, the Husum trade fair is the biggest event in this quiet German town near the Danish border. The area has become famous for pioneering the wind energy industry in Germany. Some of the country’s first wind turbines were erected on large green swaths of farmland in this region years ago. Now, there are close to 1,400 wind turbines within a 60-kilometer radius of the exhibition grounds.

Sonia Narang reports for London-based Monocle 24 from Husum, Germany.

Story Transcript:

Hermann Albers, president of the German Wind Energy Association, said the country’s northern-most state of Schleswig-Holstein is already in the forefront when it comes to wind energy production.

“Today, 50 percent consumption is coming out of wind energy [in Schleswig-Holstein]. Some years in front of us, we will have 300 percent of consumption out of wind energy,” Albers says.

At Husum, government officials, wind energy leaders, and scientists eagerly discussed how Germany’s much talked-about energy transition would be possible despite major financial and logistical challenges involved.

Germany has an ambitious goal to raise wind power from less than 10 percent of the current electricity mix to half of the country’s electricity requirement in 40 years.

Peter Becker, the managing director of the trade fair, said the expo has grown significantly since its inception in 1989.

“At the very beginning, we had inventors, creators, who had a vision about what the future could bring, and we invested in that vision in the early 90’s,” Becker says.

The trade fair took on an even larger significance this year. It’s the first wind trade fair in Husum since Germany’s energy policy drastic about-face last year. After the Fukushima disaster, the country decided to phase out nuclear energy completely, effectively making renewable energy one of the fastest-growing industries in Germany.

“One year ago, when Fukushima happened, the government decided to have this energiewende, which means that 100% of renewable energy is planned within the time of 2050, which is a big aim for the wind industry, of course,” Becker says.

In Husum, prominent European companies like Siemens and Vestas as well as large Asian turbine manufacturers awe spectators with video presentations of their state-of-the art wind turbines and equipment. Other, smaller players present innovative technologies, including sensors to detect wind speeds and elaborate weather monitoring systems.

The wind industry has also made inroads in Europe, China, and North America, and currently 75 countries have some form of wind energy.

Scott McCollister is director of investor relations at PNE Wind, based in the German port city of Cuxhaven, along the North Sea coast.

McCollister says, “When I started off in the industry, it was really a small industry that was dominated by a lot of local players. Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen a number of large corporations enter the sector. It’s moved from really being a small niche market to really a mainstream technology.”

“The Chinese wind market has become one of the most important markets in the world today, and this market is really dominated by a number of Chinese turbine manufacturers,” McCollister adds. “These domestic producers are now beginning to look to the international markets to sell their turbines.”

Wind energy is a big political issue in Germany. Even Parliamentary State Secretary Katharina Reiche is in attendance.

“This is a very important fair for the renewable energy sector,” Reiche says. “In Germany, we’re very successful in increasing our amount of renewables. Renewable energy has to become more than a niche. And they are more than a niche. They are a really powerful market.”

Carel Mohn of the European Climate Foundation’s Energy Strategy Center says the public is generally supportive of costs associated with the energy transformation.

Mohn says, “We are heading towards a system based on the massive use of renewable energies by the mid of the century. I think there’s very solid public support for this. There’s also an awareness in the German public that this is an investment, which will be paying off.”

In Germany, energy experts debate whether to cultivate onshore wind farms or develop more expensive, but higher capacity offshore wind farms, primarily in the North Sea.

The biggest challenge for offshore wind energy production is integrating unprecedented amounts of electricity into the grid.

“What needs to be taken into account is the cost of transporting the wind energy you have on the sea to where there is some consumption of energy, which means you have to build the grid,” Mohn says.

German environmental leaders say the cost for offshore energy will decrease overtime. Thorsten Bischoff is the head of a wind energy and grid integration unit at the Environmental Ministry.

“We think that we will have offshore wind energy in the next 10 years 40 percent cheaper,” Bischoff says. “Offshore, it’s about 30 to 50 billion Euros for the wind farms, another 12 billion for the grid connections.”

Wind power plant developers are also here at the Husum trade fair to meet with potential investors. Tilman Schwenke is the Europe General Manager of Mainstream Renewable Power, headquartered in Dublin with offices around the world, including Berlin. His company is currently developing one gigawatt of offshore wind energy in the German North Sea.

“The government and also, we as the industry, believe that we should also move to the sea and develop offshore wind,” Schwenke says. “We have, with offshore wind, actually a bigger capacity factor than in onshore wind. Volatility is less than on land.”

However, Germany has a small amount of the pie when it comes to already installed offshore wind energy.

Schwenke says, “We have, in operation in Germany, currently only 250 megawatts. The aim of the government and of the industry is to have 10 gigawatts by 2020, so that’s the target and that’s our goal.”

Siemens, along with Danish company Vestas, is one of the biggest turbine manufacturers based in Europe.

Morten Vindbjerg of Siemens said his company is trying to maximize wind turbine capacities and decrease costs at the same time.

Siemens is one of the first companies to develop a large-scale 6-megawatt wind turbine, which can potentially supply electricity for up to 6,000 households.

“The overall goal for our industry is to get closer and closer to what we call grid parity, where the cost of produced kilowatt-hour is the same for wind as it would be for more conventional production methods,” Vindbjerg says.

Aside from developing bigger and cheaper wind turbines, Germany is also working with Poland, Bulgaria, and other nations in Eastern Europe to bring about a change in the source of energy production.

But it remains to be seen how quickly other countries can catch up to Germany.