Submitted by Climate Scorecard Germany Country Manager Zahi Badra
When looking at Germany’s complex renewable energy market, one practice can be easily identified as a massive leap forward. In 2020, wind energy was already the largest source of electricity for the German market, accounting for 62.2GW of electricity—7.7GW of which from offshore installations. These numbers rose rapidly in recent years, reaching 6.4GW in 2018 from practically zero in 2010. In 2030, Germany aspired to double this capacity and reach 15GW. Germany is second to the UK in electricity capacity from offshore installations, even though the German operation is significantly younger.
Germany decided to utilize the strong winds off the shores of its northern borders, at the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. This practice serves as an important tool not just in achieving carbon neutrality, but also in securing Germany’s energy market after the discontinuation of nuclear power plants.
Until recent years, offshore installations faced fierce resistance from many directions, including environmental NGOs, academics and politicians, due to the potential harm to local biodiversity. To tackle this, Germany applied a series of practices to ensure the environmental viability of offshore installations, as well as gradual application with significant public participation mechanisms to ensure societal acceptance. During the last decade, the federal ministry of economics and energy has dedicated a budget of approximately 50 million Euro to research and design a thorough planning process that would allow further development of offshore installations.
The result is one of the most comprehensive spatial planning and impact assessment procedures in the EU. The regulations include minimal distance from the shoreline to minimize effects on local communities, a legally binding mitigation hierarchy (which applies technical solutions to reduce negative effects on avian and maritime wildlife), and a compensation hierarchy compelling contractors to apply equal value compensation measures in near and similar habitats for non-mitigatable damages. Furthermore, thresholds for cover and prospected effects are applied to the approval process and are used in the decision making, often leading to rejection of certain projects.
The technical solutions include innovative methods of noise reduction, deterring mechanisms to avoid bird collision, and an early alert system which gives public authorities the right and possibility to temporarily shut-down projects when they spot a risk for large population of sea birds.
As often done in Germany, the process began slow, yet increased steadily. The careful start was intended to build public trust and gradually involve stakeholders in the process, thus mitigating public resistance. Theoretically, Germany has the technical capacity to increase energy production from off-shore installations, yet decision makers have decided to keep on growing in the currently planned pace to ensure environmental viability and to keep on growing trust in the project.
With all the positives, there is still a major hurdle to furthering expansion of offshore capacity. The main clusters of installations in the North Sea supply electricity to north and north-west Germany, yet lack of sufficient infrastructure prevents distribution of the produced electricity to the south of the country, where generally the availability of renewable electricity is significantly lower. Germany is building a massive north-south high voltage line but this project is massively delayed and is not expected to be finished in the coming decade.
Although regulated by the state, offshore wind farms are owned by various private companies both German and international. Among prominent German companies are E.ON (2 installations, 747MW) and public-private partnership EnBW (3 installations, 833 MW in total) while international companies include Danish Osterd (3 installations, 1344 MW), Swedish Vattenfall (2 installations, 348 MW), and Canadian Enbridge (2 installations, 909 MW). Additional installations are owned by one or a group of companies while one installation is owned jointly by a private company and the utility company of the city of Munich.
Figure 1: Growth of electricity supply from offshore wind installations (https://bwo-offshorewind.de/)
Figure 2: A map of Germany’s offshore wind installations in 2021 (http://www.offshore-stiftung.de/sites/offshorelink.de/files/mediaimages/SOW_Offshorewind%20%C3%9Cbersicht_ENG_180121.jpg)
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