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Germany

Germany

Wind has moved past green agenda

Sigmar Gabriel, Germany's vice-chancellor and minister of energy and economic affairs, spoke passionately at the opening of the WindEnergy fair in Hamburg, the industry's leading technology showcase.

Gabriel credited wind power as the workhorse of the renewables industry and pronounced the offshore sector ready to progress to the stage of industrialisation.

It is testament to Germany's political enthusiasm for wind that Angela Merkel's deputy should attend this event. Wind power in Germany is a true success story, and government policy has been influential in making it happen. The growth of community wind projects, which took off in a big way in northern Germany at the turn of the century, was a real game changer. It dramatically changed the fortunes of many struggling farmers who found new sources of income from their land, and it kickstarted a whole new development phase in German mechanical engineering.

It has also given most German citizens a positive opinion of wind energy, allowing many of those who lived in the vicinity of wind projects to be involved and to benefit financially. It was a laudable way to grow an industry and, as experienced proved, a very effective way. The German population's widespread support for wind power has been pushing the country's wind industry and manufacturing ever since.

The German government remains committed to reaching 80% renewable electricity by 2050, initially replacing the country's nuclear power and then coal and lignite, and it appears to be gearing up for another wave of manufacturing growth off the back of the offshore wind industrialisation. But, having nurtured the industry, it is now looking to ease off its support. Feed-in tariffs will be phased out and wind projects will go to the auction system by 2017. Without support, there are concerns that subsidised cheaper international contenders will step in and the continued growth of the engineering sector that Gabriel is looking for will go elsewhere. Caution is needed to avoid what happened to Germany's solar manufacturing industry, which folded under the weight of subsidised cheaper Chinese products.

Gabriel made his speech the day after hundreds of thousands of people across 150 countries took part in rallies and marches to demand greater climate-change action. Climate change has, in the past, been a major part of the public's - and sometimes political - enthusiasm for wind energy. But today, in Germany, wind power is gaining as much approval for the jobs it provides and the competitiveness of its generating costs.

Strong economic case

In newer markets, too, enthusiasm for wind power is not being driven solely by climate-change considerations. In Brazil, where demand for wind energy is so large that the industry is struggling to keep up, it is the new power of choice. Concerns over how hydro, the country's biggest electricity provider, is being hit by droughts, combined with the fact that wind is the next cheapest power option, are driving growth.

Any country serious about reducing carbon emissions from its energy generation has to consider wind power as part of its energy mix. But there are sound, hard-headed economical reasons for choosing wind, too.

Jacki Buist is editor of Windpower Monthly

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