Dr.-Ing. Andreas Schmidt: The transition to renewable energies requires predictable conditions

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The order books of logistics companies are the seismographs of the economy: in­­creasing freight rates and fully-booked fleets indicate boom periods, while empty warehouses and cargo ships lying in the roads suggest a crisis situation.

The logistics sector constantly has to adapt to the changing requirements of its clients and the markets in question. One of the greatest challenges at the mo­­ment is supporting the transition to rene­­w­­­­able energies demanded by politicians. Germany’s last nuclear power plant will be taken offline in 2022. Alongside this gradual shutdown, dependency on fossil fuels is to be reduced in favour of rene­­w­­able energies. The targets named by the federal government are ambitious: the German Renewable Energies Act (EEG) and its latest amendments aim to increase the proportion of renewable ener­­gies in the power supply to 35 per cent as early as 2020.

The ports have a big role to play in achieving these goals – and not only as hubs for the offshore wind industry or for the ship­­ment and storage of biomass. They are also important for meeting demand for the fossil fuels which are still needed, such as in the import of coal, since dom­es­tic pro­­duction of hard coal is to be re­­duced to almost nothing over the next few years: in accordance with targets set by the EU Commission, German hard coal mi­ning will be shut down by 2018 at the latest.

Wind energy plants are shipped from Cuxhaven to the offshore wind parks in the North Sea.

Wind energy plants are shipped from Cuxhaven to the offshore wind parks in the North Sea.

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The political will driving the transition to renewable energies is confronting port operators and their clients in the energy sector with unusually short deadlines. While the economy in general will have to deal with the questions of security of supply and competitive energy prices over the next few years, the crucial question for ports is this: how can existing struc­­tures be renewed, converted or expanded to support the transition to renewable energies in an efficient way which covers its costs? Their geographical proximity to the wind parks in the North Sea is presenting Niedersachsen’s port loca­­tions in particular with new challenges. Further strategic links result from these ports’ role as international hubs for the shipment of coal or biomass. After all, not only Niedersachsen, but also its neighbours Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg, already need more energy than they can produce themselves. The transition to renewable energies is forcing ports in Niedersachsen to act quickly. In Cuxhaven, for example, a fourth berth is planned as an expansion of the terminal at Cuxport, as a result of the increase in shipping. In addition, special terminals are being further improved for shipping wind energy equipment. The potential for expan­­sion (berths 5 to 7) is there. The wind energy section of the regional develop­­ment plan (RROP) is currently being revised to increase the applicable construction height limit of 100 metres.

The North Sea ports are showing great commitment to offshore logistics  in facing the challenges of the transition to alternative energies.

The North Sea ports are showing great commitment to offshore logistics in facing the challenges of the transition to alternative energies.

Coal remains an integral part of the ener­­gy mix. It is clear that a complete phase-­out of fossil fuels is not achievable in the next few years, meaning that their use will become more closely oriented on require­­ments. However, if energy sources such as coal are handicapped with regard to their profitability in competition – such as through reapportionment for green elec­­tricity – this makes it more difficult for companies active on the electricity markets to act methodically. Through the EEG reapportionment alone, 14 billion euros were added to the production costs of fossil energy in 2011, and this is set to increase. In addition, over 200 billion euros must be invested in renewable energies in Germany by 2020.

Needless to say, these development scenarios affect the ports, too. If the conditions change as unexpectedly as last year, companies will find sustainable planning all but impossible: who will invest significant funds in the costly expansion of ter­­minals, such as that carried out by Rhenus on the Niedersachsenbrücke bridge in Wilhelmshaven, if they cannot be sure that the statutory guidelines have a reason­able half-life which will allow strong eco­­nomic planning?

In the same way, new concepts for power plant supply will have to emerge at the sea and inland ports in order to make the storage and distribution of coal more flexible. The black gold is a natural energy repository and far superior to other forms of electricity conservation. If the proportion of regenerative resources with often fluctuating availability in the energy mix is to increase, the development of significant storage capacities, the expansion of power transmission and distribution networks and the modernisation of con­­ventional power plants will be essential – only then can renewable energies be fed reliably into the network. In turn, this re­­quires that coal power plants can be sup­­plied with the fossil fuel flexibly by the ports. For example, a port whose sup­ra­structure is based on a constant through­put of coal cannot be used for additional storage without extensive capital ex­­pen­­diture, because significantly larger storage areas must be created, among other things.

 

Offshore wind energy as a future market. According to the energy concept of Niedersachsen, wind power “is at the heart of the conversion of electricity gener­­ation capacity in Germany, since it offers the greatest potential for expanding elec­­tricity generation. With­out the use of offshore wind energy, Germany will be unable to meet its goals for the expansion of renewable energies and climate protection.”

And, we might add, without the services provided by port operators, the energy supply companies and their partners will be unable to implement these targets. A look at the classification types of the central association of german sea port operations shows which roles these maritime locations will have to play: the terms installation ports, production ports, im­­port and export ports, reaction ports and supply ports are used to describe the wide variety of functions on the wharf for the erection of offshore ca­­pacity and for ser­­vice and mainten­­ance for wind parks.

In the logistics sector, the number of specific projects for the industry to im­­plement is growing and the requirements of the port operators are becoming more specific; as a service provider, we can sense this at our terminals in Nordenham, Wilhelmshaven and not least Cux­­haven, which are predestined for offshore busi­­ness. However, these problems have recently been displaced by delays caused by a lack of power supply lines at sea.

The increasing dynamism which charac­­terises this sector could admittedly use some industrialisation of its logistics pro­­cesses, as has been seen in the automo­­tive in­­dustry for many decades. In this, im­­prove­ments to optimise the logistics chains are predominantly generated from experience gained through the implementation of some first pro­­jects, as well as from investigating successful concepts from other economic fields, which can be transferred to the offshore sector. With its opportunities for logistics, the port industry will contribute to the erection and expansion of wind parks on the high seas, so that more clean energy can be generated in the future.

 

In Bremen/Niedersachsen gut aufgestellt: Biomasse von den Feldern, aus der  Viehhaltung und der Forstwirtschaft bilden einen wichtigen Baustein der Energiewende.

In Bremen/Niedersachsen gut aufgestellt: Biomasse von den Feldern, aus der
Viehhaltung und der Forstwirtschaft bilden einen wichtigen Baustein der Energiewende.

Future prospects. Given the finite nature of fossil fuels, the transition to renewable energies is unavoidable, even if there is criticism of the inconsistency and lack of clarity of individual decisions or the road map. From a business point of view, a high level of predictability in the legislative and financial conditions appears important. This desire includes both support for the private economy through targeted publicly funded subsidies, without which a national task on this scale cannot be achieved, and recognition of the contribution made by conventional energy sources to covering demand. An unreasonably strong preference for renewable energies may put security of supply on the line, while above all influencing cost structures in Germany as an industrial location. For the benefit of the economy which will hope­­fully continue to prosper in the future, no reckless actions should be taken when it comes to the energy supply of an entire economy.

2012_02_24_Rhenus_EWV_Schmidt_1-KopieBorn in 1955, the author studied at the Technische Universität Braunschweig and completed his doctoral studies there. Between 1984 and 2002, he held man­­agerial positions at Holzmann AG, Thyssen Sonnen­berg GmbH and Inter­seroh AG. Dr. Schmidt is a member of the executive board of Rhenus Port Logistics and is responsible for the corporation’s sea and inland ports.