Offshore wind energy in Germany

Essay, 2004

11 Pages, Grade: HD (High Distinction)


Table of content

1 Introduction

2 Historic roots and technical aspects

3 The political context
3.1 The government change
3.2 Climate protection
3.3 The legal framework: the Renewable Energy Law

4 The limits of democracy
4.1 Description of the ways of public participation
4.2 Inhibiting factors for democratic deliberation
4.3 Suggestions for improving democratic deliberation

5 Summary and outlooks

6 References

1 Introduction

Today's Windmills are taller than the cathedrals of the Middle Ages and the cooling towers of the atomic age. They are standing all over Germany and are sharply criticised as well as cheeringly advocated. At present, the discourse of the use of wind energy concentrates on building numerous and large offshore wind farms.

In this paper, I will investigate how 'democratic' is the policy and decision-making process concerning wind energy in Germany. This case study aims to demonstrate the current limits of democracy and suggest how 'more democratic' practices could be implemented (↑ 4). In order criticise the policy, it is necessary to describe the political context in advance (↑ 3). The lead off will be made by some historic and technical aspects of this technology (↑ 2).

2 Historic roots and technical aspects

Humans have been using the energy of the wind for centuries. For example, there were over 200 000 windmills all over Europe in the 18th century. However, the purpose of these windmills was grinding grain and squeezing seeds. The first installation to generate electricity was built by the inventor Charles F. Brush from Cleveland, Ohio in 1888.[1]

Apart from some deplorable attempts of the Nazis, wind power in Germany came (back) on the agenda with the oil crisis of 1973. In order to defy the price dictated by the sheiks, there was a lot of research concerning alternative energies. However, the effects are not worth mentioning.

Nowadays, there are about 16000 windmills on land in Germany in order to produce electricity. Although this alternative form of electricity production seems ecologically friendly, there are wide spread protests against these highly subsidised monsters. The main arguments are the mutilation of the landscape, insomnia due to the monotonous hum and the disco effect (red lights flashing in the night), the price decline of neighbouring properties, and the considerable number of dead birds.

One possible way out is to put up wind farms offshore. But the offshore installations mean an enormous challenge for the engineers specialised in wind power. Because of the considerable additional open sea costs; the offshore wind parks are only profitable if they far exceed the output of the rotors on land. It is true that the Danes, the Dutch, and the Swedes have put up a couple of smaller offshore installations since 1991 very close to the shore and used the well-tried on land standard turbines. However, Offshore on the German North and Baltic Sea prevail other conditions. There are some technical details to consider:

- Extravagant foundations of up to forty meters in deep water have to defy
storms, ice floes, and house-high waves.
- In order to protect the high-tech gearings and control-electronic equipment from the corrosion of seawater, new capsule technologies are required
- In order to transfer offshore electricity to the inland electricity grid, cables have to be laid in the sea ground. These will comprise a quarter of the total costs for the installation of a wind farm. In addition, the generated electro-magnetic fields could affect the animals, in particular the sense of orientation of sea mammals and fish living in this area.
- The problem of technical reliability and maintenance: the breakdowns multiply, especially when there are heavy storms, in these days or weeks the installations are not accessible to reparation crews.

As yet, nowhere on earth spin round offshore windmills of these multi-megawatt types. The pioneer character of this project is often stated as pro argument, because of the prospects of export developed by the German leadership on this technology. However, the pioneer character of this project contains also risks.

3 The political context

3.1 The government change

In order to understand the wind power efforts of Germany one has to consider the 'bigger picture'. In 1998, the government changed from a conservative-liberal coalition (CDU & FDP) to a social-democratic-green one (SPD & Bündnis90/Die Grünen). Especially because of the Greens that emerged out of peace and environment alliances, this new government pays more attention to environmental issues, which is manifested through policies and actions such as eco-taxes, various new environmental committees, and the opting out of nuclear energy. In the year 2000, the government of Germany opted out nuclear energy and fulfilled with this a traditional demand of the Greens; by 2025 all nuclear power plants will be put out of operation.[2] In order to understand the action of politicians regarding a quick opting for wind power, one has to see the policy against the background of climate protection.

3.2 Climate protection

In the frame of the Kyoto Protocol, the Federal Republic of Germany has committed to reduce their greenhouse gases about 21% until 2008/2012 compared to 1990. Exceeding the Kyoto Protocol, the government of Germany has made a self-liability in their climate protection programme (i) to reduce the CO2-emissions about 25% until 2005 compared with 1990 and (ii) to double the share of renewable energies in the production of electricity by 2010 compared with 2000.[3] For me it seems important to emphasise here that the actual reason for climate protection is not a legal one (Kyoto Protocol, self-liability), but essentially a moral one. The global climate change will have negative consequences especially for future generations. In particular, the people of poorer countries will be exceptionally affected, because they do not have the means to protect themselves against the feared effects. A further aspect is the very unequal contribution of rich and poor countries to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. So, the aim is a fair contribution of Germany to alleviate the problem of climate change.


[1] Die Zeit (2002) and Spiegel online (2001), (2004), (2003), (1997).

[2] Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Technologie (BMWi) (Hrsg.) (2001).

[3] Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und Reaktorsicherheit (BMU) (2000).

Excerpt out of 11 pages


Offshore wind energy in Germany
Murdoch University  (Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy)
Policy, Technology and Democracy
HD (High Distinction)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
517 KB
Case study that explores how 'democratic' the decision making process concerning wind energy (ip. offshore) in germany was.
Offshore, Germany, Policy, Technology, Democracy
Quote paper
Stefan Krauss (Author), 2004, Offshore wind energy in Germany, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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