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EUROPE: Wind Becomes More Energising

Julio Godoy

BERLIN, Aug 26 2009 (IPS) - The 12 giant wind turbines tower more than 100 metres above the sea, some 50 kilometres north of Borkum island in the North Sea close to the border with the Netherlands.

Given average wind speed of 12 metres a second, each turbine would generate five megawatts (MW) of electricity per year. Together the turbines would meet the demands of 50,000 people in a small-sized north German city like Emden.

Some 200 kilometres northeast of Borkum, just off the Danish seaside resort Blåvand, 91 turbines could generate 225 MW between them.

The facilities, which should be completed by the end of this year, are among 17 offshore projects authorised by the German government. Going offshore is the next big step Germany has taken towards stepping up renewable energy.

The installed wind energy capacity in Germany has gone up fourfold since 2000. With a generation capacity of more than 24,000 MW, Germany is the biggest European user of wind energy.

“Through implementation of these two offshore projects, an additional installed capacity of some 300 MW will be available by the end of the year,” Ulf Gerder from the German Wind Energy Association (BWE after its German name) told IPS.

Use of wind energy is rising rapidly, according to the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA). “The European Commission’s 1997 white paper on renewable sources of energy set a target for 40,000 MW of wind power to be installed in the EU by 2010. That target was reached in 2005, five years ahead of schedule,” the EWEA says in a study.

“Interest in wind energy is growing globally and thus also a demand for systems, components and services for wind energy plants,” BWE president Hermann Albers told IPS. “The German wind energy industry’s lead in international competition pays off with an export rate of over 80 percent. The industry creates economic growth and employment in Germany, securing approximately 100,000 direct and indirect jobs.”

Revenues from wind energy plants and their components built in Germany rose in 2008 by nearly 12 percent relative to 2007, from 7.6 billion to 8.5 billion euros. Exports brought in 82 percent of those proceeds.

Germany is the European leader in use of wind energy, followed by Spain, but is fifth in terms of relative use. The leading country is Denmark, with more than 22 percent of its total energy generated by wind turbines.

Denmark began using wind energy in the early 1980s, following the global fear after the oil crisis of the 1970s. The government also raised taxes on power consumption and provided subsidies to improve energy efficiency, for instance through better thermal isolation of buildings.

As former prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen put it, Denmark has shown that “you can reduce energy use and carbon emissions, and still achieve economic growth.”

Denmark’s focus on renewable sources “started out without any regard for the climate or the environment,” Svend Auken, former leader of the local Social Democrat party and the mastermind behind the environmental policies of the 1990s told IPS. The primary goal was to ensure energy independence.

Its policies helped Denmark fuel its economic growth, strengthen its energy independence, and at the same time reduce greenhouse gases emissions by 13.3 percent compared to 1990 levels.

“Today there’s a national consensus that Denmark must continue expanding renewable power,” Auken added.

The European Wind Energy Association estimates that Denmark has the world’s largest offshore wind capacity, with 409 MW. “The UK (404 MW) is a very close second, having installed 100 MW in 2007,” the group says. Sweden installed 110 MW in 2007, and the Netherlands and Ireland also have offshore wind farms.

Germany aims to have an onshore wind energy capacity of 45,000 MW by 2020, with an additional 10,000 MW from offshore wind. Wind energy could deliver 25 percent of German’s electricity consumption.

“It will be important that the framework conditions are set in the right way,” says Albers, referring particularly to the prices for wind power set by the government to compensate for a substantial increase in production costs.

“For the wind sector improvements are already visible for offshore tariffs which shall be set at 14 cents/kWh for the first 12 years of operation,” Albers said. “The discussion for onshore wind, however, is much more difficult. Prices for wind turbines have risen – not only in Germany – by 20 to 30 percent in relation to capacity. This is mainly due to higher raw material prices.”

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