There is no doubt that wind power has long become a global business. Even countries that no one had expected ever to bet on renewable energies – for example, China or the United States – have recognized the sign of the times and, as of late, have been massively pushing the expansion of wind power. This is a politically intended development, which for a safe, global energy supply will be a necessary one. The US government in particular is pushing “green energy”. As early as 2008, wind power registered a fifty-per-cent growth there. At the end of 2009, this land of partially vast, open areas, which are ideally suited for large wind farms, was trumping the People’s Republic of China as well as Germany with upwards of 35 gigawatts (GW) of installed power. The biggest growth, however, occurred on the Chinese market, where capacities in 2009 more than doubled from 12.1 GW (2008) to 25.8 GW.
Nevertheless, the next cradle of wind power is not going to be Inner Mongolia or Texas, but Schleswig-Holstein – a true wind power pioneer. Not by chance: The sea-wrapped, northernmost German federal state is windier than the others, accounting for higher-yielding turbines on average. Therefore, the development of wind energy plants has always played a key role in Schleswig-Holstein. Nearly 2,800 wind turbines with a total output exceeding 2,800 MW are already spinning on meadows and fields and along dikes and rivers. In the meantime, they have been producing 35 per cent of the gross electricity consumption in Schleswig-Holstein. For comparison: Approximately 21,000 wind turbines have been installed in all of Germany. Those systems cover between six and seven per cent of the country’s electricity requirement. On days with stormy weather and low demand, that is enough to meet the needs of all household consumers.
In part, the branch owes its rapid technological progress to Schleswig-Holstein. For example, more than 500 engineers have been developing onshore and offshore wind power systems in our new TechCenter in Osterrönfeld. In this country, the expansion of wind power is mainly going to be concentrated on so-called repowering, which consists in replacing older, smaller systems with newer, larger ones.
Since the life expectancy of a wind power plant is currently estimated to be approximately 20 years, the time for repowering has started.
A word on the offshore development: Large long-term wind power generation potentials of 70 to 100 TWh (terawatt-hours) per year can be tapped into at sea. Therefore, further expansion of wind power will mostly occur by means of wind farms in the North and Baltic Seas. The additional installation and grid connection costs are offset by considerably higher yields. Moreover, on land, the height of wind power installations is often limited to between 100 and 120 metres for reasons of landscape conservation or flight safety. The first German offshore demonstration farm, alpha ventus, exemplifies the potential of this wind power resource: About 42 kilometres from the island of Borkum, on an area approximately four square kilometres large – corresponding to roughly 500 football fields – a total of twelve wind turbines protrude from the icy waters. Each measuring about 150 metres, they are as high as the Cologne Cathedral, and weighing about 1,000 tonnes, they are as heavy as 25 fully loaded articulated lorries. Every year, alpha ventus is expected to feed a minimum of 220 gigawatt-hours of energy into the power grid, providing 50,000 households with electricity.
The gigantic project is backed by the electric companies E.on, Vattenfall and RWE.
Not only does the completion of alpha ventus represent a milestone for the three operators. But also the commissioning of the wind farm rings in a whole new era of energy supply. In coming months and years, further gigantic offshore wind farms are to spring up off the coasts of Germany and Europe, producing enormous amounts of power.
Power producers are experiencing a veritable gold-rush mood. Large companies like Siemens, General Electric and European energy providers such as the three previously mentioned as well as Iberdrola of Spain are currently staking their claims in the european waters that have been set aside for that purpose. Not a month goes by without investments in the billions getting off the ground. Politicians are also raising hopes. With offshore wind farms, the vision of a sustainable energy supply with reduced dependency on coal, gas and oil finally seems feasible. The long-affirmed turn in the German energy policy is now nearing. Meanwhile, the ecopower from the sea has come to play a central role in the federal government’s ambitious climate protection plans. And companies at the location of Schleswig-Holstein are capitalizing on that to a very considerable extent. We are the German engine for renewable energies in Europe.
Per Hornung Pedersen (born in Copenhagen in 1953) holds an MBA and a Bachelor of Science in Accounting & Finance. He started his professional career as an auditor with Arthur Andersen & Co. In 2000, after chapters as CFO in the packaging and telecommunication industries, he went over to Suzlon Energy of India, where he was in charge of internationalization. Today he is Chief Market Officer of REpower Systems AG.