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Sun, May 30, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Germany plans offshore windparks to catch up with demand

Although it is the world leader in producing electricity from wind power, Germany lags behind in the final frontier of wind energy -- windparks at sea


Giant wind turbines dot the sky at sunset in central Germany.


Germany is the world's undisputed world leader in producing electricity from wind power after more than a decade of rapid expansion, but the country does lag behind in the final frontier of wind energy -- offshore windparks.

But now Germany's wind power industry is forging ahead with work starting on some of the first windparks in the North Sea and Baltic Sea in a development which many people hope will work out for a reason completely unrelated to a clean environment.

The derogatory term Verspargelung is making the rounds in Germany, a word which roughly means "turning into asparagus fields" -- an apt description of how the towering wind generators and their rotor blades resemble giant asparagus plants cluttering the horizon.

With more than 15,000 wind generators around the country, Germany produces as much electricity from wind as Denmark, Spain and the US all combined. By the year 2010, wind-generated electrical production is to be doubled once again.

But space is running out on land, and with opposition to windparks rising from various quarters, including the tourism sector worried about Germany's scenic landscapes, the industry is now heading offshore.

The federal maritime shipping and hydrography office (BSH) in Hamburg is now reviewing 30 applications for offshore parks, and four have been approved. The first offshore parks will be starting up in 2006 at the earliest -- years behind such facilities in Denmark, Sweden and England.

"We have made things more difficult for ourselves than others," commented Fritz Vahrenholt, chairman of the REpower wind engineering firm in Hamburg, referring to drawn-out debates and delays due to environmental impact considerations.

"It is really astonishing how a technology-oriented country like Germany always reacts with fear and loathing to everything that is new," added Sven Teske of the environmental group Greenpeace.

Besides economic feasibility considerations, nature preservation has dominated the debate over proposed offshore windparks. Amid many restrictions, it will mean that Germany's offshore parks will have to be positioned as far as 40km out at sea, with the windmills' concrete foundations having to be built at depths of 30m.

Greenpeace's Teske notes that at the moment, "there is no windpark anywhere in the world which is more than 15km offshore".

Vahrenholt, commenting on the concerns expressed that Germany's sea horizons could become cluttered with windmills and on the impact of offshore parks on the marine environment, noted:

"The density of the animal population is lower and the towers can't be seen from land [at that distance]."

As German firms prepare for the country's first offshore parks, some are reporting some major new developments. At Cuxhaven, the REPower company is now working on a prototype of a 5-megawatt generator -- about double the size of today's largest wind generators.

Soon to be tested on land, ultimately the 5-MW wind generator is meant for offshore. Its dimensions -- a tower 183m high and the rotor blade circumference of 125m, or more than the length of a football field, can only be feasibly put to use far out at sea.

Offshore windparks, particularly the further out they are and the deeper the water they have to be built in, pose much greater technical and engineering challenges than land-based windmills do, adding substantially to the costs.

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