Minister pledges qualified support

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Germany's new economic affairs minister, Werner Müller, last month pledged his backing to a continuation of the German system of fixed premium payments for clean power. But the promise, made to a new year gathering of the wind community, was immediately qualified, almost within the same breath. "You have my word on it," he said. "For what it's worth." Müller's doubt about the feasibility of continuing the Renewable Energy Feed in Tariff (REFIT) is linked to ongoing court cases about the legality of the German system of support for renewables.

Müller explained that the REFIT could continue only as long as appeals against the system, now before the federal constitutional court and the European Court of Justice, are not upheld. He also made a veiled threat about the higher cost of wind power in Germany compared with other countries (page 45). Despite these seeds of doubt, his enthusiasm for wind energy -- and his deep knowledge of the issues of the moment -- drew considerable applause from the audience of nearly 300 wind supporters, including members of parliament from all parties.

Müller suggested a series of solutions to several of the major barriers to further wind development. He talked of the problems of integrating wind energy into the national power system and of offshore development. He is due to present a report to parliament on the workings of the REFIT, a document the European Commission is also awaiting with interest.

Müller envisages a future with 10,000 MW of wind power in Germany by 2005, generating some 20 TWh a year, or 4% of national electricity. Wind would then overtake hydro as the dominant renewable energy and save the use of about one million tons of fossil fuel. More space could be made available for this amount of wind power by replacing early generation turbines of up to 300 kW with state-of-the-art turbines of about 1.5 MW capacity and by moving offshore -- even in protected areas.

Müller said he was against installation of wind turbines in areas of low winds and would like to see a cap placed on the "windfall" earnings of turbines on very good sites as a result of the fixed REFIT payments. Grid connection and third party access were recognised by Müller as crucial issues. He recommended grid issue clearing houses for each state.

Müller suggested that the entire electricity sector would benefit if wind output could be reliably forecast at regular half hour intervals. The dispatching of conventional power stations could then be reduced in proportion to the output -- and bottlenecks on the grid due to wind competing with traditional generation could be avoided. A network of wind measurement stations is required, Müller said.

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