Boomtown Bremerhaven: The Offshore Wind Industry Success Story

At least four of Germany’s North Sea and Baltic Sea major ports have been transformed into the country’s main wind industry logistical centres and/or equipment manufacturing/supply bases during the past few years.

Emden serves as a main export harbour for Enercon wind turbines, and the German market leader operates a large concrete tower manufacturing plant within Emden’s boundaries. BARD Engineering chose Emden as its offshore wind turbine assembly and rotor blade manufacturing location, while part of BARD’s Tripile offshore foundations are being manufactured by a subsidiary company in Cuxhaven. Both BARD and Enercon have, in addition, built a foundry in the region, aimed at providing at least part of their individual demand for heavy-cast components.

The port of Rostock in the eastern part of Germany serves as the main wind turbine assembly and rotor blade manufacturing base for wind turbine supplier Nordex.

In addition, six wind industry hardware suppliers, as well as two wind industry R&D organizations, have already decided to establish and/or expand their operations in Bremerhaven.

Bremerhaven’s history is not very old – it was founded in 1827 to serve as a new port for the city of Bremen that could no longer be reached by large vessels on the river. Located about 50 km north of Bremen along the river Weser, Bremerhaven’s ports and container terminals are deep enough to accommodate large sea-going vessels, a crucial pre-condition for a modern shipping sector. The separate fishing port is now a major food industry centre and the continent’s largest production location for frozen foods.

Politically, Bremen and Bremerhaven together form the German federal city-state of ‘Freie Hansestadt Bremen.’

Jan Rispens is managing director of the Windenergie Agentur Bremerhaven/Bremen (WAB). This network, with about 185 member organizations, was established in 2002 with the aim of promoting wind power developments in Germany’s northwest region.

Two main focus points of the organization include providing support to offshore wind power developments and re-powering initiatives in the region. Rispens says: ‘Of the €500 million invested for offshore wind power development along the German North Sea coastal region during the past years, about half came to Bremerhaven. The main objectives of these investments have been for the series manufacture of offshore wind turbines and components.’

Maritime connections

At the end of the 1980s Bremerhaven suffered from serious economic decline, recalled the city’s Lord Mayor Jörg Schulz in December 2008 in his office: ‘Bremerhaven is a maritime city, and its local economy traditionally always relied on shipping, shipbuilding, and commercial fishery. Since World War II Bremerhaven also served as a main logistical and supply port to US forces stationed in Germany. Many American families at that time resided in our city, and contributed financially and otherwise to the local economy.’

In 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell, initiating the end of the Cold War, one of the direct consequences for Bremerhaven was that it lost its key role as a US Army supply harbour. During the dismantling process many local jobs were lost and a substantial number of American military families left the city.

Schulz says: ‘Simultaneously, the Bremerhaven-based shipbuilding industry faced serious difficulties due to increasing competition from Asian and Eastern European shipyards. This resulted in shipyard closures and job losses for 3500 shipyard workers. On top of that, our fishing industry faced difficult times, and this again led to substantial job loss. This negative cycle of events hit Bremerhaven hard, and the local population dropped from about 150,000 to 115,000, and we feared the number left could easily decline further to 100,000 or less.’

Faced with a disastrous economic and unemployment situation, in 2001-2002 the city council decided that radical counter-measures were needed to reverse the negative trends Bremerhaven faced. Among plans developed was a scheme to revitalize the city’s port – benefiting from the fact that Bremerhaven was an early adaptor to containerised shipping. As a positive side-effect of this earlier status, the city attracted a number of major shipping lines, like Maersk and MSC, as dedicated terminal clients. During the process to reverse port decline, this asset turned out to be a business stabilizing factor. Schulz adds: ‘A strength-weakness assessment further showed that the city’s strengths included a comprehensive maritime technology know-how base, and a skilled workforce specialized in shipbuilding, heavy machinery design and manufacture. The assessment results were turned into a comprehensive and detailed plan aimed at merging these maritime strengths, with the building of a strong renewable energy sector in Bremerhaven. The key focus area became (offshore) wind power.’

Massive developments

This dedicated focus makes sense as a huge number of offshore wind turbines will be required to meet the massive German and international offshore wind developments planned for the next few decades. Germany has already planned at least 23 major wind farms in the North Sea and another nine projects in the Baltic Sea, with the final goal of 25–30 GW, operational by 2030. North Sea projects, characterized by their typical 50–100 km distance to shore and water depths of up to 40–50 metres, require large wind turbines to be economically viable.

A location like Bremerhaven – with close access to a deep-water river and harbour – is considered essential for the cost-effective production and transportation of the proposed larger-scale components and complete wind systems. Both REpower Systems and Multibrid have, since 2004, tested and optimized their 5 MW offshore wind turbines. Each company has also established assembly facilities in Bremerhaven.

REpower builds its 5 MW 5M offshore machines there, and also completed the first three units of an up-scaled 6 MW 6M successor model in 2008. In addition, prototypes of a new 3.3 MW 3.XM REpower turbine for land applications were built in Bremerhaven last year.

New rotor blade manufacturer PowerBlades is a joint venture co-operation between REpower (51%) and German rotor blade supplier SGL Rotec (formerly Abeking & Rasmussen Rotec, SGL acquired a 51% stake in this company). PowerBlades established a rotor blade manufacturing plant for REpower design ‘RE’ rotor blades in Bremerhaven. These blades, with lengths up to 61.5 metres in the future, are destined for REpower turbines from 2–6 MW.

Multibrid (51% owned by French nuclear giant Areva and 49% owned by German project developer Prokon Nord) has, since 2007, assembled 5 MW M5000 ‘offshore’ turbines in Bremerhaven. The 2004 and 2006 prototypes and two pre-series turbines all operate within the city boundaries. Prokon Nord manufactures the 56.5 metre-long rotor blades for the M5000 turbine with one of its subsidiary companies, PN Rotor GmbH, located in Stade, west of Hamburg. Stade is also home to Prokon Nord’s new foundry for heavy M5000 castings, which becomes operational in 2009.

Steel foundations

A fourth main offshore wind industry player in Bremerhaven is WeserWind Offshore Construction Georgsmarienhütte, a company specializing in the design and manufacture of heavy-duty steel offshore foundation structures. WeserWind is part of Germany’s huge Georgsmarienhütte steel processing industrial group, with 9000 staff and a €2.7 billion turnover in 2007. WeserWind currently builds giant 45-metre high halls destined for manufacturing welded-steel deep-water offshore foundations. The current product portfolio includes tripod support structures for Multibrid turbines, jacket-type foundations for REpower, and Tripiles as applied by BARD Engineering.

All four wind farm equipment suppliers are located together at a newly developed industrial site called Luneort Bremerhaven – Zentrum für Offshore-Windenergie. The city council has planned a new additional terminal in the Luneort area which is planned to be operational by 2011. This ‘loading’ terminal will be capable of directly handling large, heavy and bulky components, and/or complete assemblies – like nacelles weighing over 250 tonnes and large rotor blades with lengths of 61.5 metres and up.

Besides these four companies all focused on the offshore wind market segment, an additional two wind turbine suppliers (industry newcomers) have established their businesses in Bremerhaven; each in the 900–1250 kW power-rating segment. Demand on Europe’s main wind industry markets has already shifted to multi-megawatt classed turbines. PowerWind (2007, former Conergy) therefore focused on its newly developed 900 kW PowerWind 56 (rotor diameter 56 metres) turbine at (emerging) export markets often characterized by less-developed transport logistics infrastructure. Dubai’s Innovative Windpower have a German facility here, and like PowerWind, focuses on similar export markets, but with a more powerful Falcon 1.25 MW turbine available with rotor diameters of up to 70 metres.

Besides attracting wind equipment suppliers, Bremerhaven accommodates two major research and development facilities. Wind-engineering consultancy Deutsche Windguard operates one of the largest wind tunnels in the world, with special acoustical optimization for rotor blades. And, the Fraunhofer Centre for Wind Energy and Maritime Technology operates a new rotor blade test facility for blade lengths up to 70 metres. In future this blade testing capability will be expanded to 100-metre long blades. The centre will in time transfer into a full Fraunhofer Research Institute with a planned 70 employees.


Summarized, major contributing factors to Bremerhaven’s successful transformation process include the city’s strategic maritime location with robust port facilities, the initiating of clever pro-active (political) support measures, and a substantial influx of fresh capital. Creating mutual benefits or a win/win situation for the city, as well as potential future partners, is one of the main pillars of Bremerhaven’s pro-active support mechanisms.

Schulz quotes the support of wind turbine suppliers with a speedy prototype permitting-process as a clear example of this win/win engagement: ‘We issued the permit for Multibrid’s first M5000 prototype within a six-week period, whereas a similar process elsewhere can easily take up to two or three years. In return for helping them out with a test location, we asked Multibrid in return to consider establishing a manufacturing facility in Bremerhaven. Such a request is by no means legally binding and only has the status of a gentlemen’s agreement. However, a decision process can sometimes be made easier for potential partners, when their R&D efforts are also supported by the federal state of Bremen.’


The Multibrid assembly facility in Bremerhaven multibrid



Today in total five 5 MW turbines (four Multibrid M5000s and one REpower 5M) operate within the Bremerhaven city boundaries. In addition, Enercon has erected a 3 MW E-82 turbine, while PowerWind already operates a 900 kW prototype in the vicinity of its assembly plant and plans to erect a second similar turbine. Finally, three 2.3 MW Siemens turbines have been built in Bremerhaven too.

‘Once all these wind turbines are grid-connected their cumulative energy yield roughly covers the total electricity demand for the entire Bremerhaven population. That in turn perfectly fits into our ambition to become a sustainable city in terms of energy production and use’, Schulz says.

Wind energy education

As a city that positions itself well for the overall German wind boom and the rapidly expanding offshore wind sector, Bremerhaven’s companies have already created some 700 new jobs in the past three years, this is expected to rise to 1000–1200. In order to continue on this growth path, these established and newer companies require a continuous fresh supply of well-trained engineers and other specialists.

The Fachhochschule Bremerhaven is one of the first universities of applied sciences in Germany that offers a graduate (BSc) programme in wind energy. Says Schulz: ‘In its first year the course attracted 80 students, a lot more than expected. This autumn (2009) the Fachhochschule commences a Wind Energy Masters degree (MSc) programme.’

Through the WAB network the city also benefits from regional co-operation initiatives. One key example in the field of higher education is the co-operation between the technical universities of Oldenburg, Bremen and Hannover, which together join forces in the ForWind: Centre for Wind Energy Research.

On a city map Schulz points out the positions of individual wind companies within the Bremerhaven city boundaries. The container harbour is located in the northern part of the city, while the Luneort site – with today’s four main offshore wind equipment suppliers – is located in south, and the planned wind equipment terminal is already marked on the map. This map also shows a considerable plot of ‘free’ land space adjoining the PowerBlades factory as a clear sign that there is still sufficient free space for wind industry newcomers to be welcomed into boomtown Bremerhaven.

Eize de Vries is Wind Technology Correspondent for Renewable Energy World Magazine.

SIDEBAR: Great Plans for Great Yarmouth

On the UK’s east coast a new port development is underway which encompasses a long-term vision to become a centre of excellence in offshore wind development.

The principal UK base for the offshore oil and gas industry in the Southern North Sea, Great Yarmouth is located on the UK’s extreme east coast. With some 3000 metres of commercial quays on both sides of the River Yare, which adjoins the large South Denes Industrial area, a number of oil and gas players already have offshore support facilities there.

The port handles a range of general cargos and has been used to import wind turbine components for many years. Also home to a service division of wind turbine manufacturer Vestas A/S, it is from Great Yarmouth that the company maintains the 2 MW machines at the nearby 60 MW Scroby Sands offshore wind farm, which was commissioned in March 2004.

However, the River Yare can only support vessels up to 125 metres length and 6 metres draught. Insufficient for the larger installation and transport ships that will be used in the development of the next generation of offshore wind farms.

In a bid to attract new offshore wind business as well as develop additional facilities, EastPort UK, which acquired the business and operation of Great Yarmouth Port in May 2007, planned a major port expansion.

The so-called Outer Harbour development will provide sufficient minimum water depth to accommodate vessels in excess of 200 metres length and with a 10 metre draught. With the well developed role of the port in offshore oil and gas industry support, Freeman is also confident that the location can field the necessary expertise.

Eddie Freeman, CEO of EastPort UK, explains the strategy. ‘Construction of offshore wind farms is changing’, he says, ‘unrestricted deepwater access, coupled with land availability for the storage of components is crucial.’

Discussions with the Crown Estates – owners of the UK seabed – turbine manufacturers, engineering contractors and offshore wind developers, revealed industry requirements. Three key factors were identified: deeper draft facilities; port infrastructure such as hard standing and storage; and engineering support and logistics capabilities.

The project is due for completion in October 2009 and includes the construction of two rock breakwaters totalling 1400 metres in length. In addition, 1.65 million m3 of dredged sand was used in the reclamation of 24 ha of new portside land. Width at the harbour mouth is 200 metres and there are up to 1000 metres of developed quayside in the harbour itself and a further 600 metres or so of adjacent coastline which may also be developed. Indeed, Freeman says should the offshore wind sector develop as hoped. ‘A centre of excellence for this activity could be located on the new land to the north of the outer harbour development.’ Permissions are already in place to develop the area and with capital support it could be up and running in two or three years, Freeman says. He adds that a typical development suitable for an offshore wind player may comprise 150 metre of quayside together with 2–4 ha land, allowing up to three major offshore operations in addition to the outer harbour itself, which has capacity for two.

It was also partly as a result of an assessment of the extended role of the offshore wind sector that the original quayside development plans were extended by 300 metres, a decision made in mid-2008.

Funded through a public-private partnership, some £18 million (US$27 million) of the £60 million ($90 million) project came from the East of England Development Agency, local councils and the European Regional Development Fund. The wind industry is anticipated to account for around 25% of the port business from its heavy lift / project cargo capability and the company says the new outer harbour, with its adjacent warehousing and open storage, will make it well placed to service the rapidly evolving renewables industry.

Freeman suggests that if the major offshore wind programme that is called for under UK government and EU climate change plans is to be achieved, government and industry must co-operate positively. ‘The offshore wind industry is on a learning curve,’ he observes, ‘We’re willing and ready to play a part.’

— David Appleyard, Associate Editor

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