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Which way does the wind blow in the world of renewable energy

Which way does the wind blow in the world of renewable energy
Which way does the wind blow? For the Seaports of Niedersachsen, the answer depends on political decisions, financial questions and issues around grid connection bottlenecks.

For Germany’s nine Lower Saxon seaports of Brake, Cuxhaven, Emden, Leer, Nordenham, Oldenburg, Papenburg, Stade and Wilhelmshaven, offshore and onshore wind power projects make up a vital part of the cargo and operations mix.

When Japan’s Fukushima disaster prompted Germany’s decision to turn away from nuclear and build up renewable energies instead, offshore energy companies logically began to extend their production and plan new production sites, while the ports invested considerable sums in new facilities and equipment, ready to handle the increased demand.

“But things went a bit different than expected,” says Inke Onnen-Lübben, managing director of the Seaports of Niedersachsen.

“The grid connection was a problem due to the lack of political decisions and, of course, of the financing, which were both not clear. Also there were discussions about rising energy costs for the consumers as well as about subsidies for the offshore industry. Due to those discussions and the uncertainty arising from that, several investors became more careful and stopped their engagements.”

Falling orders led some offshore manufacturers to close their production sites temporarily or even completely, while others stopped planned investments in new sites. “There were still some offshore projects in progress in which some of our seaports in Niedersachsen were involved so we came off comparably well in the end,” says Onnen-Lübben.

Finally, last year brought a political decision, with the passing of Germany’s Renewable Energy Act (EEG) amendments bringing some security for the offshore wind industry in terms of planning and investment. The new target of 6.5GW of offshore wind energy by 2020 ‘seems to be realistic to achieve,’ she says – but it’s far less than the earlier target of 10GW by 2015. Longer term, the target is 15GW of installed offshore wind energy capacity by 2030, compared to the original 25GW.

In the eyes of the industry and the ports, these targets ‘lack ambition’, says Mrs Onnen-Lübben. But also, it’s a question of critical mass: the industry needs strong market growth in order to achieve economies of scale in this fast-developing technology.

“The political decisions that have been made could have an impact on the industry, as they could reduce activities in Germany, which would lead to less volumes of offshore wind energy components handled in our ports.”

Having said that, the Niedersachsen ports have been handling some notable wind farm contracts. Cuxhaven supported the construction work for the Amrumbank West wind farm, which started in spring 2014; Cuxport handled the foundations for 80 wind turbines, stored them for a period and then shipped them on through the Cuxhaven Offshore Terminal.

In March this year, Cuxport announced an agreement with Siemens covering logistics operations and services for the BorWin 2, HelWin 1, HelWin 2 and SylWin 1 offshore converter platforms.

Emden and Wilhelmshaven are acting as service ports, including for crew transfer and supply vessels. Nordenham and Emden are providing special storage areas and handling systems for sea cables. Wilhelmshaven handled completely mounted rotor stars for the Global Tech project – the blades were produced in Stade and were shipped to Wilhelmshaven via the port of Stade.

The grid connection, while still a challenge, has at least improved – the EEG reforms have allocated connections to the network to the Federal Network Agency. Several offshore wind farms are now connected to the grid but there are still some future projects for which the connection is not assured, she says.

Renewable energy targets are now in place in 164 countries, after these were created in an additional 20 countries last year and policymakers are more attentive to green energy heating/cooling, said the Worldwatch Institute and REN21 report. However, as demonstrated in Germany – one of the world’s top investors in renewables – targets can be set, but it requires determination and the right set of circumstances to meet them.

TAGS: Ports Offshore