Sunday, September 04, 2005

The wind of change

The wind of change
Despite CDU promises to go back to nuclear power if they win the upcoming election, renewable energy is booming in Germany, with the big utility companies investing millions in wind and solar projects. Andrew McCathie looks at the future for eco-friendly power.

By 2025 Germany's windparks will generate the same energy as 20 nuclear reactors
Rocketing oil prices and the push towards reductions in CO2 emissions have triggered a wave of new investment in renewable energy in eco-friendly Germany, helping to underpin a boom in alternative power in Europe's biggest economy.

Up until recently, the alternative energy business was largely dominated by small-to-medium sized companies.

But as energy emerges as a key election issue in Germany, a round of major investments in recent months has signalled a move by big energy groups to broaden their energy mix by shifting into renewable power supplies.

With vast wind parks now spreading out from the land into the sea, Germany's third biggest electricity group, Swedish-owned Vattenfall Europe, has announced plans to launch a EUR 200 million study into the building of an offshore wind park in either the North or Baltic Sea.

"We believe that offshore parks can make a contribution that will transform wind energy from a subsidy receiver into a market-mature technology," said Vattenfall Europe chief Klaus Rauscher.

The environmental revolution

Underscoring the boom that has been underway in renewable energy in Germany, alternative power sources now represent about 10 per cent of electricity generated in the country.

We believe that offshore parks can make a contribution that will transform wind energy from a subsidy receiver into a market-mature technology. - Vattenfall Europe chief Klaus Rauscher
In a sense, the drive to promote renewable energy represents another stage of Germany's environmental revolution with the country already operating very strict recycling laws for products and waste.

Germany is also starting to export its new wind technology, with windpower engineering group REpower Systems announcing earlier this year that it had won its first project order in China.

While giant German insurer Allianz said that it was raising its stockholdings in renewable energy groups from EUR 300 million to EUR 500 million, US conglomerate General Electric chief Jeff Immelt set out plans in Munich for GE to double its revenue from sun and wind energy to EUR 15 billion over the next five years.

Nuclear power? Nein danke

70 percent of Germans support the phasing out of nuclear power
The big power companies have continued to plough money into renewable energy sources despite opinion polls pointing to the possibility of a new conservative government winning a national election next month and moving to downscale public support for alternative energy and to extend the life of nuclear power plants.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's ruling Social Democrat-Green Party coalition has already begun phasing out nuclear power in the country and launching a push to build-up renewable energy sources in Germany.

But as a sign of the Germans' commitment to seeking out alternative sources of energy, a poll published this week found that a majority of people want an end to nuclear energy in the country. Drawn up by pollsters Emnid, the survey found that 70 per cent of Germans are for the phasing out of nuclear power.

Putting their money where their mouths are

However, as a sign of the confidence in the renewable energy sector, investors do not appear to be particularly unsettled by the threat posed by a change of government in Berlin.

After making their stock market debut in March at EUR 54, shares in solar equipment supplier Conergy have been hovering around EUR 90. Another sun-power group, solar cells maker SolarWorld, jumped by more than 500 per cent last year.

Vattenfall is, however, not thinking about pulling back from conventional energy sources.

Windpower engineering group REpower Systems announced earlier this year it had won its first project order in China.
But with the energy sector expecting ambitious emission reduction CO2 targets in the future and a steep rise in price for CO2 trading certificates, Vattenfall also announced plans to build a EUR 40 million coal-fired power station that does not give off any carbon dioxide.

Since the start of the year, the price for a CO2 trading certificate has jumped from EUR 7 to EUR 23.

Strong wind

Underpinned by support from Germany's ruling SPD-Greens coalition, wind energy has already overtaken hydroelectric power as the nation's main source of renewable energy.

A government report has predicted that by 2025 the windparks rapidly appearing along Germany's coastline will generate the same amount of energy as 20 nuclear reactors.

Accompanying the government move to phase out nuclear energy, Schroeder's coalition has introduced a law compelling energy companies to buy power generated by renewable sources at a generous price has also led to an explosion of wind turbines across parts of Germany's wind-swept countryside and a boom in the sales of wind generators.

In a similar way, government support for renewable energy has helped to foster a boom in solar power with the country's sun power industry having ambitions to become the world leader.

A solar milestone

Last month, the giant global oil company Shell announced it was to build the world's largest single-connected solar power station at a former military base in Bavaria in southern Germany, which the company described as a milestone.

This follows the opening last year of the world's largest solar plant near Leipzig in eastern Germany.

After it is completed in March 2006, Shell's EUR 40 million solar plant would cover the electricity needs of about 3,300 households each year. Shell invested EUR 243 million in renewable energy last year and says it has more projects on the drawing board.

August 2005

[Copyright DPA with Expatica 2005]