"Germany's Green-Energy Gap"

"The six offshore wind turbines that REpower Systems began erecting near Germany’s coast in 2004 make their older cousins look like pinwheels. Each one has three 61.5-meter blades, which in a good breeze make one revolution every 5 seconds, producing 5 megawatts of electric power. Inspired by Germany’s bold vision for capturing offshore wind energy, these majestic machines are designed to withstand anything the famously unforgiving North Sea can dish out. And yet, these turbines have never felt the spray of salt water. They tower over communal pasture—above sheep munching, bleating, and adding to the world’s supply of greenhouse gases. These turbines are tucked between a nuclear power station, an incinerator, and a cluster of chemical plants in Brunsbüttel, a hardscrabble harbor town where the Elbe River and the Nord-Ostsee Canal spill into the Wadden Sea. Just a few years ago, many Germans thought that by this time, hundreds of offshore turbines like these giants from Hamburg, Germany–based REpower would be scattered off their northern coasts. But rather than the hundreds of turbines that were to be spinning in Germany’s coastal waters by now, only three turbines had gone up by the start of this year. The dearth of offshore wind turbines is just one of several signs of a slowdown in the country’s two-decade-old transition to renewable energy. Germany’s balkanized power grid, split between east and west when the country was divided and not yet fully knit back together, remains ill adapted to the variable flows from renewable energy. And Germany is readying a new generation of coal-fired power plants—including three proposed for Brunsbüttel."

Peter Fairley reports for IEEE Spectrum July 1, 2009.

Thursday, July 2, 2009