The construction of offshore wind parks in the North Sea has hit a snag with a vital link to the onshore power grid hopelessly behind schedule. The delays have some reconsidering the ability of wind power to propel Germany into the post-nuclear era.
The generation of electricity from wind is usually a completely odorless affair. After all, the avoidance of emissions is one of the unique charms of this particular energy source.
But when work is completed on the Nordsee Ost wind farm, some 30 kilometers (19 miles) north of the island of Helgoland in the North Sea, the sea air will be filled with a strong smell of fumes: diesel fumes.
The reason is as simple as it is surprising. The wind farm operator, German utility RWE, has to keep the sensitive equipment — the drives, hubs and rotor blades — in constant motion, and for now that requires diesel-powered generators. Because although the wind farm will soon be ready to generate electricity, it won’t be able to start doing so because of a lack of infrastructure to transport the electricity to the mainland and feed it into the grid. The necessary connections and cabling won’t be ready on time and the delay could last up to a year.
In other words, before Germany can launch itself into the renewable energy era Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen so frequently hails, the country must first burn massive amounts of fossil fuels out in the middle of the North Sea — a paradox as the country embarks on its energy revolution.
One of the central projects of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right coalition government, the scrapping of atomic energy and the switch to renewable energy, has hit a major obstacle. Nine months after the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, Berlin’s multi-billion-euro project is facing increasing difficulties. And the expansion of the country’s offshore wind farms in particular, which Minister Röttgen considers of paramount importance, is constantly beset by new problems.
Extremely Difficult Position
On December 6 he received an urgent message from Leonhard Birnbaum, RWE’s chief commercial officer, and Fritz Vahrenholt, who heads up the company’s renewables division. The two men expressed their serious concern that “the timely realization of grid links” for offshore wind farms had become “dramatically problematic,” thus seriously jeopardizing the expansion of the sector and therefore also the government’s plans. “This development puts us in an extremely difficult position,” the two RWE managers wrote.
The energy industry is currently under more stress than almost any other sector of the German economy.