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Renewable Energy: Perspectives in Germany (Is Wind Worth the Cost)

Global climate changes and depletion of fossil energy resources on the planet forced the civilized world to pay more attention to the efficient use of traditional energy resources and increase the proportion of renewable ones. One can definitely say that Germany is the most progressive country in that sense. Constant growth in prices for gas and other energy sources, as well as Germany’s dependence on exporting countries, gave rise to a new round of debates about the German energy policy. The discussion primary topics concern mixed energy supply stability as well as promotion of inner energy production through the use of coal and alternative energy sources. This paper is focused on Germany’s wind energy sector perspectives.

Germany is one of the largest consumers of electricity. Moreover, this country is the third largest consumer of natural gas and the fourth of coal fuel. Oil products and gas occupy more than half of its energy structure. The primary source of oil production in Germany is an oil field on the west coast of the state of Schleswig-Holstein. According to the United Index Mundi data portal, the annual output of the German oil in 2013 was 18.5 million barrels, which roughly corresponds to the amount which produces the largest field in Saudi Arabia in one week. Therefore, Germany depends almost entirely on oil imports which it receives mainly from Russia and Norway. Germany’s gas needs are covered by domestic production by 22 % according to International Energy Agency (4). Moreover, the source of 42 % of electricity generated in the country is brown and black coal (International Energy Agency 5). Thus traditional sources of energy are crucial for the normal functioning of its economic. However, the current task of the German government in the energy sector is to make Germany the first country in the world which by 2050 will fully switch to energy derived from environmentally friendly sources. From a technical and economic point of view, this plan is realizable even on the basis of already existing technologies according to experts of the Federal Agency for the Environment.

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Another key task is the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions since the energy transfer to renewable and clean energy sources will help to get rid of emissions from power plants based on coal and natural gas. In Germany, 30 % of CO2 emissions accounted for the production of electricity (Energiewende 27). According to the Chairman of the Expert Council on Ecology, Martin Faulstich, Germany can achieve a full transition to renewable energy sources (i. e. rejection of nuclear power, oil, gas, and coal) by 2050. In accordance with his words, the plan is feasible from a financial point of view, and in the long term this strategy is economically more profitable. The program of energy sector modernization in Germany, which provides that the share of renewable energy, including biogas, geothermal, hydroelectric, wind, and solar sources should reach 47 % of its total output by 2020 (BEE, 3), is already working.

After a nuclear catastrophe in Japan, under the pressure of the demonstrators, the German government approved a plan to phase out the “peaceful atom” from the country. There are a number of laws designed to accelerate the country’s withdrawal from nuclear power and to ensure the transition to alternative energy sources, especially wind and solar energy (Energiewende). These documents include the construction of power plants of a new type, as well as measures to save energy including the reconstruction of buildings for energy-saving technologies. According to Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, the last German nuclear power plants will be decommissioned by the end of 2022. In the context of an accelerated refusal from nuclear energy and the rapid transition to renewable sources, German government aims to provide a reliable, uninterrupted supply of clean energy at affordable prices.

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The use of wind energy for electricity generation in Germany is by far the most competent and productive technology of all presented in the field of renewable energy. According to the plans of the German Energy, in 2020 the production of electricity generated by wind turbines, will reach 149 billion KWh, with a power of 45 GW, which will provide a quarter of total energy consumption of the country (BEE, 5). It is assumed that the sheer number of wind turbines will not change, remaining at about 20 thousand units. However, the old turbines will eventually be replaced by new and more efficient ones, allowing the existing wind farm to produce more power with less noise without increasing the amount of used space used by them now.

Currently, Germany produces 7 % of all electricity by means of the wind. According to IEA Wind (95), Germany put into operation 754 wind power plants with capacity 1551 MW in 2010. Therefore, the total number of “windmills” at the beginning of 2010 amounted to 21 607 units, and their total capacity is about 27 204 megawatts (IEA Wind 95). In late May, in the Baltic Sea near the Fischland-Darss-Zingst peninsula, the first commercial offshore wind farm — Baltic One — was commissioned. Also, there are 12 experimental wind turbines of “Alpha Ventus” park, as well as the 15 wind power plants of “Bard” company near the Borkum Island located in the North Sea. Together, they have a capacity of over 100 MW, which corresponds to 12.5 % of the standard CHP plant power running on coal (IEA Wind 97).

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The first turbine that can be used for operation in the sea was installed near the Magdeburg city in Germany in 2002.. Each blade of this turbine was made of reinforced fiberglass material and has a length of 52 m, a width of 6 m, and its weight is 20 tons. Nacelle, which contains the axis and the other elements of the generator, has a weight of 440 tons according to TU-Delft. A massive foundation with a depth of 30 m is also needed to withstand the pressure of the water masses. So, all mechanics and electronics require the protection from the salt water. The company needs kilometers of sea cable in order to connect to the network. Platform service also presents certain difficulties. Nevertheless, the German wind power developers are confident that at sufficiently large power turbines (about 4-5 MW), and their total number of about a hundred, projects will be profitable.
The public opinion on wind energy is also positive. According to Morris (82), in July 2011, 54 % of respondents said that the current level of allowances for the cost of renewable energy is “acceptable”. At that time allowance was about 14 % for the individual consumer. Another 25 % of respondents acknowledged that the cost of allowance was too low, and thus the vast majority had no problems over allowances in 2011. The same poll found that 65 % of Germans support renewable energy in general, 76 % support solar energy, 60 % — wind power, and 51 % — biomass energy. On the other hand, only 3 % of people accept nuclear energy, as well as 22 % supported the use of natural gas. It is not surprising that 94 % of respondents said that the growth of renewable energy is “important” or “very important” for them.

However, these results massively increased after the recent nuclear accident in Japan. In June 2012, Association of Manufacturers of Wind and Solar Energy (BDEW) conducted a study which showed that 90 % of Germans recognize the energy turnaround importance. At the same time, 58 % said that this turn “is not enough progressive” and 61 % consider that the growth of renewable energy is “too slow”. While 59 %believe that the energy turnaround is “generally beneficent” for Germany, only 35 % presume that it will bring them personal profit, and 27 % of respondents are of the opinion that it will affect them adversely. Obviously, there are some obstacles. For example, another study published in the German weekly magazine “Focus” in 2012, found that 51 % of Germans do not want the new power lines to be built next to their homes (Morris, 83).

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Another example of renewable energy public support is Feldheim. This village near Berlin became the first population center in Germany that refused from the traditional energy and made a 100 % switch to alternative energy sources. The village gets its energy from wind power plant, which is established on its territory. In winter, Feldheim will operate biogas plant that receives energy from cereals, pig, and cattle manure. Moreover, power station operating on wood chips and other wood waste will heat the village in case of extremely low temperatures. The villagers also received government subsidies in order to create their own power system. The partner of this project was the energy company Energiequelle GmbH.

However, wind power is not the only source of renewable energy. Solar energy is one of the fastest growing sectors of German industry, constantly fueled by large government subsidies, the annual volume of which is almost 9 billion euro. Production of electrical energy by means of the sunlight (also known as photovoltaic) is expected to increase almost ten times. According to Burger (2), the amount of electric power generators that use photosensitive elements for converting solar energy into electricity in Germany is estimated at 4.9 billion KWh at a power of 38.5 MW. Meanwhile, there are some complications. The German government forces major energy companies to buy the solar energy at prices that are several times higher than market value. Therefore, subsidized sector has quickly become a profitable business. In 2009, Germany has installed more than half of the global number of solar panels, and their owners are now getting billions in subsidies. German companies took the first place in the global solar energy market. However, despite the large-scale investments in solar energy, its total part in Germany energy constituted near 6 % in 2014 (Burger 2-6).

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Other method of reducing the share of traditional energy sources includes energy-saving technologies usage in the construction and reconstruction of buildings. Germans achieve energy effectiveness through the use of efficient thermal insulation, heat pumps installation, use of modern window frames, as well as doors that prevent the leakage of warm air, and application of boiler plants with high efficiency and temperature control devices. The concept of “passive house” includes the use of ventilation (heat pumps) along heat exchangers and natural energy sources (solar, wind) for heating and hot water. Germany has a practical experience in the construction of “passive houses”. Currently, there are more than 4 thousand homes that meet the requirements of energy-efficient buildings.

Germany has achieved remarkable success in the alternative energy and topped the list of nations that have made extensive use of solar and wind energy a strategic priority. All reforms respect the interests of customers and shareholders. Different studies proved the significant public support for renewable energy. Moreover, current indicators of wind power sector show that wind energy can be accessible and economically profitable. Such positive opinion and energy performance show that Germany has vast future perspectives for energy and environmental sectors.