Offshore windpark plans buffeted by doubt

Germany's plans for vast offshore wind parks as part of wider drive to develop renewable sources of energy could turn out to be little more than hot air if viable financing cannot be found, a new study warned Monday.

Offshore windpark plans buffeted by doubt
Photo: DPA

The German government – in what is being described here as a hugely ambitious “energy turnaround” for Europe’s biggest economy – has decided to pull out of nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan and reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.

Instead, Germany is seeking to meet 35 percent of its energy needs via renewable sources such as solar and wind by 2020 — compared with 20 percent at present — and as much as 80 percent by 2050.

Vast wind parks in the North Sea form an essential part of this strategy, with the aim to generate 10,000 megawatts of wind power offshore by 2010, compared with just 200 megawatts at present.

But such ambitions may prove futile, not least due to problems in finding adequate financing, according to a new study by the Hamburg-based economic think-tank HWWI.

So far, the drive to build offshore wind parks “has proven very sluggish, largely due to the high uncertainty surrounding the costs of operating and maintaining them,” HWWI said.

“At the same time, the wind parks are not connected to the power grid. As a result of these uncertainties, financing is problematic,” added the group.

The incoming head of German power giant RWE, Peter Terium, said that in addition to the problem of financing, there were also immense regulatory and technical challenges.

“The first wind parks off the coast in Britain are built at a depth of 10 to 15 metres. In Germany, you have to go out further beyond the mudflats, so you’re starting at a depth of 30 metres,” Terium told the weekly magazine Der Spiegel in an interview.

“We don’t know what challenges await us in the construction of these offshore wind parks. It’s an experiment, like the first flight to the moon,” he said.

Terium rejected the charge RWE was responsible for delays in the projects. “The approval processes are at a standstill. Suppliers aren’t delivering fast enough and there aren’t sufficient special ships for installation,” he said.

And the network operator is experiencing delays in connecting the parks to the power grid.

“That puts the economic viability of the wind park in jeopardy.

We call upon the government to discuss with us and the other investors a solution of the problem and economic compensation,” Terium said.

“If that doesn’t happen, Germany won’t be able to meet its offshore plans by 2020. And many of the parks which are actually planned for Germany will be built in England instead,” he warned.


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