Offshore Embarrassment Shoddy Parts Trip Up Major North Sea Wind Farm
Germany's first offshore wind park was dealt a blow with the failure of two turbines due to inferior materials. The rough patch has energy executives scurrying to reassure Berlin and banks scrutinizing their billions in offshore wind energy investments.
Less than two months after celebrating its opening, the Alpha Ventus test wind park in the North Sea is already running into problems. Intended to be the initial thrust in a plan that foresees dozens of new offshore wind parks off the German coast, shoddy building materials have caused two turbines to overheat and fail. An additional four turbines will need to be replaced.
Each of the struggling turbines was manufactured by the French firm Areva, which is responsible for half of the 12 turbines in the four-square-kilometer park (1.5 square miles), located about 45 kilometers (28 miles) north of the island of Borkum.
Areva said Friday that overheating was unforeseen and "not sufficiently considered" from the outset. As a result, the company will invest in a facility in Bremerhaven to test its turbines under full-load capacity before sending them out to sea.
The turbines, which had only been in operation for eight months, will be replaced by late summer, according to Areva.
Major Players Concerned
The wind park's operators, European energy giants E.on, EWE and Vattenfall, played down the incident in a hurriedly called crisis meeting at the Environment Ministry in Berlin. Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen, for his part, is an enthusiastic supporter of the wind park and described the opening of Alpha Ventus as the "best day" of his tenure.
Still, the problems encountered by the 250 million park have instilled further doubts from its already lukewarm investors. As a result of the Alpha Ventus embarrassment, they are reviewing the billions of euros they have pledged for the development of other offshore wind parks.
The wind energy industry, however, doesn't appear fazed by the Alpha Ventus mishap. The park is a sort of laboratory in which defects and shortcomings of offshore wind parks are to be identified and corrected. Moreover, the park's problems may be a limited one: The other six turbines, which were manufactured by Hamburg-based Repower, have so far worked without a hitch.
The German wind energy industry is banking on Repower's early results to parlay into future success. The industry believes that a quarter of Germany's energy demands can be met with wind power by the end of the decade and that as much as 27 percent of energy consumption in the EU can come from wind by 2030.
The German industry still has a long way to go. So far, only 15 wind turbines have been installed off the German coast. But a further 1,600 are planned, the most among European countries.