The new energy system is gathering pace

The dramatic development of the wind energy industry began in Germany 25 years ago.

The transformation of the German energy system is gathering pace. The proportion of green electricity has now reached 25%. Wind energy is the most important pillar in this change – and still has lots of potential. The rate of development has been breathtaking: it is precisely 25 years since the first commercial wind farm was launched in Germany – in Kaiser-Wilhelm-Koog on the west coast of Schleswig-Holstein. A total of 32 wind turbines with an output of 10 to 25 kilowatts each began feeding electricity into the public grid on 25 August 1987. It was a modest, but groundbreaking second start.

The “farm” succeeded an earlier overambitious “alternative energy” vision. In the early 1980s the Federal Research Ministry had a huge test installation called Growian – the abbreviation for “Grosswindanlage” or large wind turbine – designed and built in Kaiser-Wilhelm-Koog. The three-megawatt colossus failed as the result of its bad design with too heavy steel rotor blades. It only operated for four years from 1983 to 1987. Nevertheless, Growian was in effect the germ cell of the German wind energy industry. Engineers in young wind firms learned from the project. Today’s largest turbine totally eclipses Growian – it generates 7.5 megawatts and meets the energy needs of 15,000 people.

1991 was crucial for the wind energy boom. It was the year in which the Bundestag enacted a law on the sale of electricity to the grid, legislation which has been copied by many countries since then. It obliged grid operators to give priority to green electricity and remunerate it with higher tariffs. Today there are over 23,000 wind turbines in Germany, mainly in coastal regions, but increasingly also in low mountain areas. During the first half of 2012 they already supplied 9.2% of the electricity consumed in Germany. And the industry is an export and employment locomotive, providing roughly 100,000 jobs in Germany.

The further expansion of wind energy plays a central role in the plans for the transformation of the German energy supply system. It should already meet 25% of electricity demand by 2025. Among other things, the master plan envisages a series of offshore wind farms in the North and Baltic Seas, of which the first (Alpha Ventus) went on stream in 2009. Although they are expensive and present greater technological challenges than originally thought, they are powerful – and avoid the frequently criticized disfigurement of the landscape. Additionally, the electricity grid is being expanded to transport the wind electricity from the north to centres of consumption in the south.