Electricity generated by Germany's first offshore wind energy park began streaming into the national network on Wednesday as three wind turbines located 45 kilometers (28 miles) north of the North Sea island of Borkum went online.
The three wind turbines are massive. Each towers more than 100 meters (328 feet) above the waves, with blades spanning more than 116 meters. Individually, the wind turbines are capable of generating 5 megawatts of energy per year. The initial trio will be joined later this year by nine more wind turbines. When all 12 go online later this year, the installation is expected to provide enough electricity to power 50,000 homes.
The project, dubbed Alpha Ventus, is co-financed by German energy giants Vattenfall, E.on, and EWE. Construction began in 2007, and cost €250 million ($357 million) -- significantly more than the €190 million originally budgeted for the project. Bad weather last summer delayed the construction of the facility by almost a year.
Though Germany is considered a world leader in land-based wind power, this is the country's first offshore facility. The United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Ireland and the Netherlands all have offshore wind energy parks already.
Alpha Ventus is a sort of experiment for the three big energy firms. Their consortium, the German Offshore Test Field and Infrastructure Foundation, is a critical part of the country's energy policy. Further wind parks are also already under construction or planned near Borkum and other islands.
20 Percent from Sustainable Sources
In February, the German Environment Ministry unveiled an "energy roadmap" that includes slashing energy usage, boosting the efficiency and cleanliness of coal-fired power plants and taking nuclear plants offline. Renewable energy -- which in cloudy, wintry Germany mostly means wind power -- is supposed to make up much of the difference, providing 20 percent of the country's total power by the end of the next decade.
To make that a reality, there will have to be a significant investment in wind power, and soon. Germany already boasts nearly 20,000 wind energy plants on land, second only to the United States. Ocean-based wind turbines are the hope of the future. Power generated by projects like Alpha Ventus is subsidized by the German government to encourage investment and support the wind power industry.
But the 12 wind turbines of Alpha Ventus are a drop in the bucket. To meet the government's goal of substantially reducing CO2 emissions by 2020, thousands more wind turbines will have to be erected in the oceans. Environment experts with most German political parties support the offshore technologies. Indeed, the government's target is to generate 10,000 megawatts per year using offshore wind turbines by 2020, the equivalent of 10 nuclear power plants. It would take 2,000 more windmills in the North and Baltic seas to generate that volume of electricity.
And that worries conservation groups, which are concerned that the massive projects will disrupt flight paths of or even kill migratory birds. They also claim that too little has been done to study the impact the thousands of wind turbine towers could have on sea creatures.