On Reflection: German wind market is lost in transition

GERMANY: According to the new German coalition government, the revised Renewable Energy Act -- known as EEG 2.0 -- will be in force by 1 August. Nobody knows what exactly will be included, or how it will affect the wind industry in the long term.

(pic: Aloysius Patrimonio/Alamy)
(pic: Aloysius Patrimonio/Alamy)

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A slowdown of the German energy turnaround seems inevitable for the renewables industry. New wind projects are now tied up under the transitional rule, which states that the still-valid law can only be applied to wind projects that received a construction permit by 22 January 2014. Any projects receiving their permit after this date will not be financed by any bank for the next few months. This situation will last until the new law has passed the lower house of parliament and probably the upper house as well.

Even if the revision of the EEG can be finished according to the government's schedule, the resulting standstill for more than half a year is an irresponsible and heavy blow for the wind industry. Imagine the German government stopping car sales for seven months only to develop a new, severe taxation for cars according to efficiency and pollutant emissions. Impossible? Yes, because the political and economic power of the car industry — matched only by the big utilities — would prevent the government from such nonsense.

Generation EEG 2.0 wind turbines

The new law will also challenge the industry to reconsider turbine design. It seems highly likely that the key figure of nominal power/rotor diameter will further decrease in order to push annual full-load hours even at lower-quality sites and thus reduce fluctuations and the need for grid fortifications. The next step should be to introduce means of storing electrical energy maybe on an hourly up to daily basis, to start with.

While these ideas are not completely new, and seem reasonable and manageable enough, one again has to question the way the German government is forcing the industry to adjust with almost no time to react.

The owners of older turbines, as well as the service market, will also need to react to the obvious shortfall of new turbines and reconsider what needs to be done to operate turbines beyond the standard assumed 20-year life-cycle. There is one thing that a wind turbine has in common with any other power plant: the moment it is paid off, it can produce electricity at very competitive rates, given that the costs for operational and structural maintenance remain manageable.

However, there is a catch. Unlike in the automotive industry, the customers of wind-turbine manufacturers never worked out a proper range of significant documentation and access rights that should be mandatory with a turbine purchase. Now, as more and more turbines reach the end of their nominal lifecycle, the more important this fact might become. After 20 years, the structural safety of the wind turbine needs to be established. The proper procedure for this revision is currently being developed by different institutions. And if the technical guidelines for the continued operation of wind turbines issued by the German wind power federation, FGW, becomes mandatory (as many expect), the owner of a wind turbine will need substantial input data of the structural analysis for that process.

As plans for repowering wind farms are being scrapped as a result of the upcoming EEG 2.0, project owners are well advised to somehow get hold of a proper documentation for their "classic" wind turbines. Although this might not be easy, it might be worth the effort. Why else are 75% of all Land Rovers ever produced still in operation somewhere in the world?

Holger Hämel is managing director of SeebaWind Service. For more information,

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