The building work for Germany’s first offshore wind power park will start next week. The wind farm called Alpha Ventus is a joint venture of the utilities E.ON, Vattenfall Europe and EWE and will cost about €180 million. The German government will contribute€50 million to the research project that should provide insights so that numerous similar projects can follow. Currently, there are 30 wind power park projects planned in the North Sea and in the Baltic Sea around northern Germany. This first project will be located 45 kilometers north of the island of Borkum in the North Sea. Power production could possibly begin this year. A 70km-long cable will connect the wind turbines with the German power grid. Eventually, there’llbe twelve tremendous wind turbines generating 60 Megawatts of electricity together which is enough to provide power to 60,000 homes. This project is unique as it is the first wind turbine park in deep waters. The wind turbines will be anchored in the seabed with steel posts where the North Sea is 40 meters deep. Similar projects in Britain and Denmark are closer to the coast and therefore in shallower waters.
It will take a lot of effort and money to get this first wind turbine park running and to maintain it as salty air, corrosion and high waves threaten to damage the turbines. Besides, critics argue that offshore wind parks have a significant adverse environmental impact and could threaten the fragile ecosystem.
The offshore wind parks should help to boost the share of wind energy of the total German energy consumption which is at about 7% currently. The extra megawatts generated by wind turbines, however, will neither reduce Germany’s reliance on fossil fuel imports, nor will they save carbon dioxide emissions. Germany is phasing out all its nuclear power plants until 2022 and even if all these overly ambitious and expensive, partly not at all profitable and inefficient renewable energy projects are put into action, this will hardly be enough to offset the decline in power supply. This tremendous amount of money channelled into green power projects won’t help to combat global warming unless the German government realizes that there’s no way out of the energy crisis and high carbon dioxide emissions but to use all sources of energy we have. Especially carbon-neutral energy sources such as nuclear power are essential to electricity generation and energy security in the short and medium-term. Though issues such as the disposal of nuclear waste have not yet been resolved, nuclear power is cheap, dependable and all nuclear power plants in Germany have the highest safety standards.
Although politicians claim that offshore wind parks are profitable, because many investors plan to pour money into such projects as soon as they get the official permission, this huge interest is artificially generated by generous government subsidies.
Another obstacle is that the electricity grid is not sufficient and not capable of efficient and intelligent energy transport. First, new power lines will have to be built to transport the energy generated at offshore wind power parks to consumers. Second, without accurate capacity control, fluctuations can threaten the stability of the grid by generating energy surpluses. If power supply exceeds demand, utilities have to slow down the generation of other power plants which is very expensive. Therefore, negative electricity prices can occur at the European Energy Exchange in Leipzig so that electricity suppliers can stimulate demand. (Getting money for consuming electricity? – That’s indeed possible!)
A fleet of electric cars could be the solution to this problem. Most electric cars will be charged up at night using surplus power. At night, much less power is used than during the day. Nevertheless, nuclear and coal-fired power plants covering most of the day’s base load are running 24-7 whether or not there’s demand for the generated power. If there’s a lot of wind generating an even greater surplus, the grid could collapse. Electric cars could be set so that they are charged when electricity is cheap, offsetting the negative effects of uneven power consumption. Until electric cars can tap into unneeded electricity supplies, wind turbines are regularly switched off on windy days as there’s not enough damand and no capacity to store the energy.