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Germany's wind sector is growing — but not fast enough

July 19, 2023

Onshore wind power in Germany is expanding but growth still falls short of what's needed to meet the country's climate targets.

The German town of Feldheim, pictured with dozens of onshore wind turbines in the distance
Germany is approving more onshore wind projects than last year, but the pace is still too slow to reach climate targetsImage: DW

Germany's onshore wind energy sector has made significant progress in 2023 compared to 2022, according to a half-year update from the German Wind Energy Association (BWE) and the trade association VDMA. With 331 wind turbines and a cumulative capacity of 1,565 megawatts (MW) of power installed in the first half of the year, this represents 65% of the total capacity installed in all of 2022.

But it's not enough, the associations say: the country is still falling short of what it needs to hit 2030 renewable energy targets set by the German government.

This picture shows wind turbines and power pylons near Neurath, Germany
Germany aims to add 10 gigawatts of onshore wind energy a year to its grid from 2025Image: Ina Fassbender/AFP/Getty Images

Approvals to build take too long

"The key measure is and will remain permits to build new turbines," explained BWE President Bärbel Heidebroek in a press release from her association.

In the first half of 2023, permits were issued for 585 new onshore wind turbines with a combined capacity of 3,175 MW. The volume of approvals in the first half of 2023 has already reached three quarters of new approvals granted in all of 2022.

Despite this progress, Germany is still a long way from its goal. To achieve the target of 10 gigawatts (GW), or 10,000 MW, of new energy production capacity per year starting in 2025, at least 12 GW of new approvals annually are required, Heidebroek says.

"Just the time to get the permit takes two and a half years," Ralf Paschold, an onshore wind power entrepreneur in the central German state of Hessen, told DW. "Why? Because the process is too difficult."

Infografik Strommix in Deutschland 2020 EN

Some states aren't pulling their weight

The German states of Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia are making good progress in issuing approvals for new turbines. But states like Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria in southern Germany aren't doing enough, the association says, and even the leading regions could be doing more. 

"This is too few states," Heidebroek complained in the press release. "More speed is needed in all states."

Failing to achieve federal wind targets could have implications for progress in other sectors key to Germany's green transition, the association says, such as heat pumps, electric mobility and green-hydrogen production. These projects rely on a sufficient supply of renewable electricity. 

"We have the Earth heating. We have all these problems," Paschold said. "We need more and more power. We want to have cars powered by electricity."

Repowering potential could improve wind's image

"Shortfalls in any given year increase pressure in subsequent years and compound implementation challenges," BWE said.

To speed up approval processes, the association recommends greater coordination between local authorities and federal agencies to streamline planning and permitting procedures, including identifying suitable land for projects.

Wind parks gain support via capital participation

Repowering projects — the replacing of aging wind turbines with modern ones — can also increase the efficiency of electricity generation, as well as the acceptance of wind energy. In Germany around 13,600 turbines, with a combined short- to medium-term repowering potential of up to 54 GW, are currently candidates for repowering.

Upgrading existing infrastructure reduces costs, BWE says, and improves the public's perception of the technology.

Controversy around impact on nature remains

 A trend of erecting turbines in remote areas like forests, where humans are less likely to see them, has opponents worried about the impact on wildlife, though recent surveys indicate that the majority of the population is in favor of it.

"In times of probably the greatest loss of biodiversity since the extinction of the dinosaurs, this is a terrible, fatal development," Annette Müller-Zietzke, a local fighting the development of wind turbines in sections of the Reinhardswald, a forest in Hessen, told DW.

A small dormouse climbing on moss
Some opponents to onshore wind fear the turbines are being built at the sake of biodiversityImage: Lothar Lenz/OKAPIA KG/picture-alliance

According to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), the average annual growth rate for onshore wind over the next five years is estimated to be 12% globally, with an expected average annual installation of 110 GW. China, Europe, and the US will drive the majority of this growth, accounting for over 80% of the additional capacity. In 2023, China is expected to represent 62% of new installations worldwide.

Edited by: Uwe Hessler

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Kristie Pladson
Kristie Pladson Business reporter, editor and moderator with a focus on technology and German economy.@bizzyjourno