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Germany

Germany

Conference Report - Nuclear debate at teeming Husum event

GERMANY: Business and technology rather than politics were foremost in delegates' minds when they streamed through the doors of Husum WindEnergy, the world's largest international wind energy event.

Yet high on the agenda was the state of the uneasy peace between the renewables and nuclear energy sectors, kept in place over the past eight years by the renewable energy act - with its generous guaranteed feed-in tariff payments for renewables electricity and priority access for renewable power to the grid - and the nuclear phase-out act of 2002, which set a timetable for the closure of Germany's 17 nuclear reactors by 2023.

Some experts felt that German federal government plans aired in September, proposing longer operational lifetimes for nuclear power plants, could negatively affect the country's and, potentially, the world's wind energy industry. "Germany's wind energy sector is an example to others, and any slowing of the country's transition to a renewable energy economy will be watched carefully and have knock-on effects elsewhere," said Hermann Albers, president of the German Wind Energy Association (BWE).

The conventional energy sector seemed unconcerned by the revised nuclear plans. "I don't see a conflict; we haven't seen another government with such clear targets for renewables," said Hildegard Muller, managing director of the German Federal Energy and Water Association (BDEW), which is dominated by the four major energy companies in Germany. "Conventional and renewables must work together; we must talk to each other rather than about each other."

Albers expressed concern at this suggestion. He pointed out that neither the government nor BDEW, which acted as advisor, talked to the renewables industry or other sectors in deciding to extend nuclear's operational lifetimes. He said Muller's offer to engage the wind sector in dialogue was "charming, but probably only under her conditions, whereby we want equal opportunities". Hanno Fecke, managing director of the trade fair organising firm, Messe Husum, agreed. "We must do everything we can to resist the extension of nuclear plant lifetimes," he said, calling the plants "a serious hindrance" to wind and other renewables.

Network expansion

Debate raged everywhere. Peter Harry Carstensen, premier of Schleswig-Holstein, saw the nuclear operational lifetime extensions as a chance to generate funds from nuclear windfall profits that could be channelled into the urgently needed expansion of the country's electricity networks.

His stance was sharply contradicted by Thorsten Herdan, a managing director at powerful engineering federation Verband Deutscher Maschinen und Anlagenbau (VDMA). "It is not acceptable to have the implementation of a task that is basically a public service - expansion of the electricity networks - dependant on the use of nuclear power," he said. After all, he added, any safety incident in connection with nuclear could see one or more reactors having to close and the source of funds for expansion dwindling or drying up.

Gridlock

Integration of wind-generated electricity, both into the electricity transmission networks and into the electricity markets, was the other main issue addressed at the trade fair. This included scepticism from delegates about assumptions on the construction of cross-border electricity transmission systems across Europe.

"It's widely expected that we'll have a closely knit European circuit board of electricity transmission lines, but this won't be the case," said Bjorn Klusmann, managing director of the German Renewable Energy Federation. A case in point, according to BWE, is problems in German law that have caused delays to the planned NorGer transmission cable between Norway and Germany. The link is to allow trading of electricity generated in Norwegian hydro power stations and wind power in Germany.

Klusmann also said renewables operators need more flexibility to move in and out of the fixed feed-in tariff regime if they are to be able to participate in supplying electricity for the lucrative reserve power market. Reserve power is used to iron out fluctuations in energy generation and consumption.

Other discussions took place about opening up the market. Germany's four transmission system operators currently have complete responsibility for operations, "but this needs to be shared to create a market in which renewables can compete", said Jorg Strese, head of generation strategy at small municipally owned energy company Trianel.

Frank Mastiaux, chief executive officer of E.on Climate & Renewables, saw no need for the market. When asked how high-priced offshore wind-generated electricity could best be brought into the market - either through green certificates or other bonus systems - he praised the current renewable energy act, "in which cost movements are dynamically taken into account".

Due to its higher cost, "offshore will be additive rather than central to climate protection", concluded BWE's Albers. He estimated that the need for electricity transmission expansion could be halved if more wind capacity was built onshore in southern Germany.

Controversy over nuclear power, electricity infrastructure and power market issues was compounded by other concerns. No one quite knows what the US market holds for next year, nor what the upcoming amendment to Germany's renewables act in 2012 will contain. Despite all this, the atmosphere at the trade fair was "focused and determinedly positive", concluded Husum Wind's energy spokesman, Klaus Lorenz, at the end of the week.

SHOWCASING THE GLOBAL WIND INDUSTRY QUESTIONS REMAIN OVER SUITABILITY OF VENUE

The six exhibitor halls buzzing with visitors, and the brand new conference centre at the Husum WindEnergy trade fair, demonstrated the global wind energy sector's confidence in the face of the economic crisis and US wind sector downturn.

The conference centre provided space for more than 200 speakers, who delivered speeches in some 70 sessions. More than 40 were in English, with a handful presented in simultaneous translation from German, adding to the September 21-25 event's growing reputation as an international rather than a predominantly German affair.

Held every two years in Husum, a small town on the North Sea coast of Germany, the trade fair remains the central gathering of the wind industry. Around 950 companies, associations and institutions from 28 countries exhibited at the show and attracted 25,000 visitors from more than 70 countries. Exhibitor numbers increased by 30% and the floor space was expanded by 40% to 43,000 square metres compared with two years ago.

There were delegates who complained of difficulty navigating the Husum exhibition halls, which consisted of one permanent exhibition hall and five temporary tents. Unlike previous Husum events, venues could not be accessed individually from a central area. Some went so far as to question Husum's logistical suitability as a meeting point for the global wind industry, citing the absence of a large local airport and accommodation spread across a wide rural region.

Nevertheless, the next trade fair in 2012 is already virtually booked up, according to Hanno Fecke, managing director of the trade fair organising company, Messe Husum.

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