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Germany

Wind Energy: More Than Hot Air?

Germany generates more wind energy than any other country, but the renewable power source is not without its critics. A trade fair focuses in Hamburg on the subject.

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Windmills generate 6 percent of Germany's energy so far

WindEnergy2004 opened in Hamburg with a gust of fresh air. More than 330 firms from 18 countries traveled to the northern German city to hawk their wares at the international fair, which runs until Friday. Now in its second year, some 15,000 visitors are expected to attend the event as the subject of wind energy takes central stage in political discussions in Germany.

The German government has high hopes for the industry: It says the branch will spawn more than 10,000 new jobs in coming years. A study showed that 66 percent of Germans think wind energy is good. But both government and environmentalists may just have been putting on a brave face in the wake of a passionate dispute over the benefits of wind energy that preoccupied the German media last month.

Even so, new legislation on the renewable energy source is expected to give the industry a boost. Although Germany generates far more wind energy than any other country in the world, there currently aren't any windmills in German waters. But the reworked Renewable Energy Law is supposed to change that, cutting financial backing for windmills on land in favor of windmills in the sea.

"With installations in the sea, we could triple the amount of wind energy in Germany, from 5 to 15 percent," Greenpeace energy expert Sven Teske said in Hamburg.

Filling the gap

Deutschland vorne bei Windnutzung

Wind power turbines tower over the village of Klettwitz in Brandenburg, Germany

The governing Social Democratic-Green party coalition decided years ago that renewable energy was the way of the future. In 2002, Germany passed legislation to phase out nuclear energy by 2020. The government agreed that renewable energy sources, particularly wind and solar power, should carry the slack.

The sector brings in €4.2 billion ($5 billion) yearly, and German windmills make up for 6 percent of German energy needs, according to the branch association VDMA. The government aims for it to grow to 12.5 by 2010, Environment Ministry State Secretary Simone Probst said.

Although Germany remains the biggest market, wind energy firms are also being drawn to other European countries, North America, Asia and Australia, where demand is growing. Exports make up 23 percent of the branche's profits, and the VDMA estimated that the amount will increase to 60 or 70 percent.

The Bundesrat, Germany's upper chamber of parliament, is set to debate the amendments to the Renewable Energy Law on Friday. Though the Bundestag has already passed the law, the Bundesrat, dominated by the opposition conservative Christian Democratic Union, could slow down its enactment.

Hot air?

Schröder mit Windmühle

Bundeskanzler Gerhard Schroeder posiert am am Mittwoch, 22. Mai 2002, in der Vestas Rotorblatt-Fabrik im brandenburgischen Lauchhammer mit dem Modell einer Windkraftanlage der Firma. Am Mittwoch erfolgt die Inbetriebnahme des neuen Werkes, in dem in Zukunft jaehrlich 900 Rotorblaetter fuer Windkraftanlagen produziert werden. (AP Photo/Matthias Rietschel)

If passed, the legislation should also help to extinguish the fires of anger in April after the influential German newsmagazine Der Spiegel published a controversial title story that argued the cost of wind energy to the environment and taxpayers was far too high. The law will likely put an end to the Verspargelung der Landschaft -- turning the German countryside into asparagus fields -- that citizens' groups have sprung up to fight.

The newsmagazine's story reaped indignation from one of Der Spiegel's own reporters, who, along with a colleague, had submitted a different, contrary article on wind energy to the Hamburg weekly a year earlier but never saw it printed. Harald Schumann quit his job at the magazine over the dispute and had his original article published by online newspaper Netzzeitung.de to disprove allegations from Der Spiegel that he had done shoddy work. Schumann and Gerd Rosenkranz's story told of a wind energy sector hampered by large energy firms trying to block competition and inaccurate claims that it cost taxpayers too much money.

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