The Expensive Dream of Clean Energy Will High Costs Kill Merkel's Green Revolution?


Part 3: €75 Billion for High Sea Wind Farms

The expansion of wind power has been successful but is hitting its limits. The most favorable locations on land can't be increased and the so-called repowering, which refers to operators replacing old turbines with new and more powerful ones, is slowing down. They are running into problems getting planning permission for the new turbines which in many cases are twice as high as the old ones.

As a result, companies are diverting to offshore sites where the wind is more constant but the costs of construction are far higher. The government's energy plan estimates that the expansion of offshore wind farms will cost €75 billion ($100 billion) by 2030, but adds that the investment risks are "hard to calculate." That means it could be far more expensive, especially as the wind turbines are vulnerable to technical problems, as experience with the first German offshore wind park, Alpha Ventus, has shown. It is located some 45 kilometers off the North Sea island of Borkum. Its 12 wind turbines jut out of the rough seas, each one as high as Cologne Cathedral and as heavy as 25 fully loaded trucks.

Engineers developed all the equipment from scratch here, including the supply ships and the cranes that heaved the gigantic rotor blades up 100 meters with centimeter precision. E.on and its partners spent a quarter of a billion euros on the project, which is capable of supplying 50,000 households with electricity. When it works.

Shortly after they went into operation, half the turbines were shut down again, for months, due to a fault in the gear mechanism. "We won't allow ourselves to be discouraged by such setbacks," says E.on's executive in charge of renewable energies, Frank Mastiaux. He insists that the future belongs to the offshore wind farms in northern Europe.

But his colleague Fritz Vahrenholt at RWE Innogy, which is investing billions in wind turbines, admits: "The gentle revolution on the sea won't exactly be cheap."

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