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New boost for onshore wind power?

After years of stagnation, the industry and politicians are hoping for a trend reversal in the expansion of wind turbines in Germany this year. "2023 could be the year of departure for wind energy," said the President of the German Wind Energy Association (BWE), Hermann Albers, at a press conference in the middle of the week.

The Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection is also hoping for a boost. At the turn of the year, the framework conditions for wind turbines had once again improved significantly, according to a spokeswoman for tagesschau.de. This contributes to more expansion and accelerated procedures.

Curve has been pointing down significantly since 2017

The expansion of green electricity – for example from wind power – is considered one of the keys to the energy transition and also to Germany's efforts to become less dependent on energy imports. Recently, however, development has been sluggish. In 2016 and 2017, the number of new onshore wind turbines was growing by more than 1,300 per year before steadily declining. Only 233 wind turbines were installed in 2021. According to the federal government, however, Germany is now on the up again.

According to the ministry, systems with a capacity of 2.3 gigawatts (GW) were installed on land in 2022. This means that the expanded output is almost 24 percent higher than in the previous year. On the one hand, according to the data, the average net output of the individual new wind turbines has increased from four to 4.4 megawatts. On the other hand, the number of wind turbines increased by 306 after deducting the old turbines that had been dismantled.

However, this corresponds to just around one percent of all onshore wind turbines in Germany. For the industry association BWE, the numbers remain "sobering for the fifth year in a row". The addition of new plants on land is still too low, agrees Dennis Rendschmidt, Managing Director of VDMA Power Systems, a trade association of the Association of German Mechanical and Plant Engineering.

Capacity is expected to double by 2030

The Federal Environment Agency had already argued in December that the expansion targets for 2022 had been achieved. However, it is not a big success because the intermediate steps according to the Renewable Energy Sources Act are "rather moderately ambitious". Because whether the long-term goals in Germany can be achieved at this rate remains questionable.

With the amendment to the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) passed in July 2022, the federal government has legally established that the expansion rates of onshore systems should increase to a capacity of up to ten gigawatts (GW) per year. In 2030, a capacity of around 115 GW should finally be installed on land in Germany. For comparison: According to the BMWK, there were around 29,000 wind turbines with an installed capacity of around 58 GW at the end of 2022.

The chairman of the left in the Bundestag, Dietmar Bartsch, therefore recently spoke of a "wind power expansion at a snail's pace". "The traffic light is stagnating at Groko level," he told the "RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland". "So far, the words about 'faster expansion of renewable energies' have been empty phrases."

New legal rules this year

That should change starting this year. In order to close the gap between plan and reality, the traffic light coalition also introduced the "wind on land" law in addition to the EEG amendment. This includes the principle that renewable energies will be in the overriding public interest in the future and will serve public safety. "In the future, they will have priority over other interests when making decisions," emphasizes the BMWK.

In addition to changes in the building code and in the distances to radio navigation, new rules for species protection, which could defuse conflicts with nature conservationists, should also contribute to faster and legally secure planning and approval procedures. In addition, there is an increase in the claim in view of inflation and higher interest rates by up to 25 percent. After every company used to be able to build wind turbines and received a fixed feed-in tariff for this, tenders were introduced in 2017. Whoever asks for the lowest amount gets the job.

In addition, a maximum limit has been set for the subsidies, which in 2023 may be a quarter higher than in the previous year. In 2023, the state will be tendering a record number of projects with almost 13 gigawatts, according to the BWE. From 2024, this could be reflected in significantly higher numbers of new buildings. For this year, the industry is forecasting a new installation of between 2.7 and 3.2 gigawatts of capacity on land – which is only slightly above the expansion in the previous year.

"Implementation at LNG speed is necessary"

In order to increase the speed, the federal states had to make use of the new options for approval, demands association president Albers. "Implementation at LNG pace is necessary," he said, referring to the rapid construction of LNG terminals. On average, approval for wind turbines still takes two years. "The situation must not deteriorate further. It must improve fourfold."

At the same time, Albers pointed out the need to provide more space for new facilities. Experts regard this as the most important point in the expansion of wind power. "The biggest stumbling block is the lack of available areas that are designated for wind energy," said Andreas Loschel, Professor of Environmental and Resource Economics and Sustainability at the Ruhr University Bochum, in an interview with tagesschau.de at the end of September.

In September, 0.8 percent of the country's area was designated for onshore wind energy, but only 0.5 percent was actually available. "The south in particular must finally deliver and must no longer shirk responsibility," demanded Albers. In Bavaria, the largest federal state in terms of area, few wind turbines have been built to date. According to the Federal Network Agency, there was only an additional capacity of 25.1 megawatts (MW) from January to November 2022. In the second largest federal state, Lower Saxony, it was 350 MW in the same period.

Distance rule in Bavaria slows down expansion

Local resistance also plays a role, said Volker Quaschning, a professor at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts (HTW) in Berlin: "We can see that individual federal states are not going along with it." In Bavaria there are restrictions such as the so-called "10H rule", according to which a minimum distance of ten times their height to residential buildings must be observed when building wind turbines.

However, as a result of the "onshore wind" law, the federal states are now obliged to provide sufficient areas for the expansion of onshore wind energy. If you do not comply with this, your country-specific distance rule does not apply. The Federal Government expects that the new framework conditions will advance wind power. The new laws still had to take effect, but in the medium term they will lead to accelerated expansion, said the spokeswoman for the Ministry of Economic Affairs.

However, BWE President Albers was skeptical that the complete projects with an output of 13 gigawatts would already be awarded this year. The goal must be ten gigawatts. "Only approved projects and orders help." It is also important to convert old wind farms to modern wind turbines without a new permit.

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