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Juwi boss says German offshore wind plans face trouble on land

Germany is wildly overestimating its ability to build grid links to accommodate its offshore wind ambitions, says the boss of the country’s leading onshore wind developer.

“The problem with offshore wind in Germany is the power will not be produced where it’s needed,” says Juwi Wind managing director Marie-Luise Pörtner, who thinks modernising onshore turbines is a better option.

“We have these huge offshore wind targets, but nobody has ever explained how they are going to get the electricity down from the north to where the load centres are in the south,” Pörtner tells Recharge.

“We’re not going to be able to build tens of thousands of pylons across Germany – that’s going to be impossible. And nobody is going to be willing to pay to have them [cables] buried.”

Pörtner’s comments echo growing fears that, despite delays and supply-chain challenges to Germany’s offshore infrastructure, the onshore grid will prove the ultimate sticking point for the country’s energy overhaul.

Responding to those concerns, Chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed this week that her government intends to present a bill on a national grid development plan by early June and wants it in force by the end of the year. Many in the industry believe that time frame is unrealistic due to the political and economic hurdles that stand in the way of such a comprehensive grid strategy.

Pörtner acknowledges that offshore wind has an important role to play in Germany and across Western Europe, but says Berlin is overemphasising the technology when there is vast potential for cheaper onshore development. Germany had more than 29GW of installed wind capacity at the end of 2011 – behind only China and the US. Of that, about 110MW was offshore.

“If you look at northern Germany, many of the turbines in place are 15, 20 years old,” Pörtner says.

“Germany has huge potential for repowering. At the rate we’re subsidising offshore wind right now in Germany, you can produce electricity cheaper from PV.”

Germany’s powerful energy utilities are the driving force behind the country’s enthusiastic embrace of offshore wind in the past few years, she claims.

“Renewable energy has now left its childhood in Germany, and the fight for market share is getting serious,” she says. “If you look offshore, you find the E.ONs, the EnBWs, the Vattenfalls – all the major players from the conventional energy world, and they have PR budgets we can only dream of.

“The big utilities understand that with the exit of nuclear power, the only way they’re going to be able to earn money is with renewables. So they’ve transferred their conventional thinking to renewable energy – which to them means big centralised plants offshore.”