Choppy Waters for Offshore Wind in Germany

Germany’s offshore wind power is one of the missing links in the Energiewende. The German government wants to see a ginormous 25,000 megawatts of offshore wind parks installed in the Baltic and North Seas—the equivalent of 20 large nuclear power reactors. Yet there are only two wind parks in commercial operation, and one of them operates at just a fifth of capacity. 

Just to illustrate how far Germany has to go: The government wants to have 7.6 gigawatts (7600 megawatts) of capacity installed by 2020 and as much as 25 gigawatts by 2030. In total, the farms would cover a patch of sea eight times as large as New York City.

Today the combined generation power of Germany’s offshore capacity is only a meager 200 megawatts. (Total installed offshore wind capacity in the EU was 3,000 megawatts at the end of 2010.) Germany has every intention to catch up and surpass the likes of the UK and Denmark. There is a queue of impatient wind park developers lined up to get cracking ASAP.

The problems?  For one, the industry has been waiting for German authorities to finalize a grid plan for the entire country, one plank of which would address offshore wind. Moreover, the technical and logistic challenge is immense: the posting of such colossal turbines more than 100 kilometers offshore and in water over 40 meters deep has never been done before—anywhere, ever.

But at least things were moving forward until late last year when the transmission system operator TenneT  admitted it lacked the money, the high-voltage direct-current components, and the properly skilled personnel to build the grid connections it had promised. Everything stopped cold. It appeared Germany might miss its 2020 and 2030 offshore targets, a major blow for the Energiewende.

But new legislation and aid (in different forms) for TenneT have things back on track, hopefully. The new legislation speeds up the expansion of offshore wind farms by introducing a binding offshore grid development plan. In addition—and critically—it specifies a compensation regulation for the construction and operation of grid connections to offshore wind farms. If grid construction is delayed further, the wind park owners will be able to collect compensation for their losses (the bad news is that the consumer foot this bill, too).

This by no means is a guarantee that Germany will hit the targets it gave itself. Indeed offshore wind is another one of the Energiewende’s uncharted waters—and not uncontroversial, too. (More on that another time.) Germany is making up an awful lot of this clean energy shift as it goes along. And there’s no harm in that.

Lead image: Choppy Water via Shutterstock

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Paul Hockenos is a Berlin-based author who has written about Europe since 1989. Paul is the author of three major books on European politics: Free to Hate: The Rise of the Right in Post-Communist Eastern Europe, Homeland Calling: Exile Patriotism and the Balkans Wars, and Joschka Fischer and the Making of the Berlin Republic: An Alternative History of Postwar Germany. From 1997-99 he worked with the international mission in Bosnia and 2003-04 in Kosovo. Since then, Paul has held fellowships with the American Academy in Berlin, the European Journalism College in Berlin, and the German Marshall Fund. He was an editor at Internationale Politik, Germany’s leading foreign affairs journal, for five years. He is currently author of the blog Going Renewable and is writing a book about Germany’s energy revolution.

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