End of the subsidies: Old wind turbines will soon have to go offline

Wind power is the most important building block for the energy transition, but the phasing out of subsidies threatens countless wind turbines. In three years, a large part of the network could be taken out of service.

Several thousand wind turbines in Germany are likely to be phased out in the next decade because their state subsidies expire. "If electricity prices do not rise over the next decade, only a few plants will survive on the market without subsidies," says an analysis by the Berlin-based consulting firm Energy Brainpool. This assessment is shared by most professionals. "In any case, from 2020, the shutdown of existing facilities to a greater or lesser extent is expected," says an article by several economists of the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Leipzig in the magazine "economic service".

The sticking point is the electricity price of 2021, which nobody knows today. The old wind turbines, whose rotors have been turning for 20 years or more, lose their support under the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG), but not their operating permit. You could go on working, if it's worth it. Like all older machines, after 20 years of wear and tear, wind power stations are prone to repairs and become more maintenance-intensive than new systems. Your operating costs are higher. The current electricity price of around three cents per kilowatt hour will not be enough to keep the plants running - with perhaps a few exceptions in particularly good locations. 

By 2023, more than a quarter of all land-based assets could be eliminated

By 2021 alone, 5,700 wind turbines with a capacity of 4,500 megawatts will be withdrawn from production. In each of the following years, another 2,000 to 3,000 megawatts will be removed. The German Wind Energy Association estimates that by 2023 around 14,000 megawatts of installed capacity will be in the balance representing more than a quarter of the currently installed wind power capacity on land, at risk of being eliminated.

The planned expansion corridor for wind energy on land envisages that 2,900 megawatts of power will be installed and promoted in 2020 and in subsequent years. But that's gross, not net. Decommissioned and dismantled facilities are not considered. In the current situation, it could therefore happen that more wind power capacity is decommissioned than new projects built. The wind energy on land is expected to shrink, not grow. "It is problematic that the expansion paths do not reflect the expected replacement investment requirements," according to the Leipzig scientists.

Danger for the energy transition

"This is relevant for the energy transition insofar as wind energy is currently the most important renewable energy source in Germany - and this will remain in the future." The industry is now calling for substantial expansion of the wind energy expansion corridors after 2020. "These are inadequate anyway," says Wolfram Axthelm, Managing Director of the German Wind Energy Association (BWE) in Berlin. "And there is no reason for that anymore."

The future of wind power will ultimately depend on electricity prices

Finally, it's about the locations where the old facilities are located. Some of them would no longer be able to be approved today because the legal regulations have changed and, for example, more distance to residential buildings must be observed. For the association, these are well-established and accepted locations on which new wind power plants should be built - which would then be much more effective than the older turbines. 

Ultimately, however, electricity prices will play the decisive role. A trend in the debate about the energy transition is moving in the direction of significantly raising the price for CO2 certificates. This would make electricity from fossil fuels such as coal or gas significantly more expensive. It's not clear whether the policy takes this route but the outcome will begine to be known as the next federal government is more defined.

Translation to English assisted using Google Translate


OCT 31 2017
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