The towering wind turbines stretching across the German countryside have in recent years emerged as a key symbol of the nation’s pioneering role in promoting renewable energy.
Now, two decades after the first wind park was opened in Germany, the country’s rapidly growing alternative power sector has stepped up its global drive, with an offshoot of Hamburg-based Conergy AG planning to build Australia’s biggest wind park near Broken Hill in NSW.
Riding a global wave of concern about oil prices and climate change, the industry’s international expansion comes amid signs that further development of the wind energy sector in Germany could be limited due to a backlash from affected communities, and government moves to lower the guaranteed fixed price for the sector.
“The wind power business (in Germany) is not what it used to be,” said Stefan Wagner from wind park group Enertrag.
Conergy, Europe’s biggest renewable energy company, is boosting its operations outside Europe as the company shifts away from its traditional solar business.
With business operations in 26 countries, Conergy is aiming for a tenfold increase in its Asian business over the next five years, with the company moving to cash in on China’s fast-growing alternative energy market by opening an office in Shanghai. This follows the launching of operations in India, South Korea, Singapore and Thailand.
Underscoring its global ambitions, Conergy’s sales surged 70 per cent to €418 million ($A657.7 million) during the first half of the year, with overseas sales not only outnumbering domestic sales for the first time, but tripling them.
In the meantime, with the industry predicting that the electricity generated by wind power could grow from just 1 per cent worldwide now to 15 per cent by 2020, Europe’s alternative energy sector is increasingly in the hands of big power companies such as Germany’s Siemens AG and E.On AG, Europe’s biggest energy group.
With 18,685 turbines, Germany has more wind turbines than any other country, meeting 6-7 per cent of electricity needs and accounting for about 38 per cent of the global wind power turnover. Australia has about 563 turbines.
But while German power companies export 61 per cent of the wind generators they produce, the number of new wind turbines installed in Germany fell by more than 25 per cent in the first half of the year compared to the same period in 2006.
“This is evidence that the fundamental conditions for wind power utilisation are no longer favourable in Germany,” said Germany’s Wind Energy Federation president Hermann Albers.
At home, the country’s wind power companies are focused on modernising existing generators and building taller rotors.
These days news that a wind park is planned normally results in a local residents’ campaign to raise concerns that the wind generators risk spoiling the countryside, driving away tourists and leading to sleepless nights for those living close to the turbines because of the infrasound – sound with a frequency too low to be detected by the human ear – caused by the whirling blades.
Each year German courts hear 600-700 cases mounted by opponents of plans to build wind turbines in their local communities.
This week a court in the city of Darmstadt ruled out building two wind turbines on the grounds that they would change the character of the local environment.
Moreover, after leading the world in wind power development, Germany has also run into problems entering the next great frontier of wind energy – offshore parks – which tend to be free of environmental concerns and where the wind blows strongly and constantly.
Plans for building wind parks out at sea have also run into regulatory and technical hurdles, with the industry now hoping that an offshore pilot scheme will be launched next year.
By Andrew McCathie
The Age (Australia)
13 October 2007
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