“A year ago, the government talked about “power gaps“ and “blackouts“, [but] now the development of renewable energies has suddenly become too fast. This change of mind is justified with the supposedly too high costs for citizens,” he told journalists at the Husum WindEnergy 2012 trade fair.
The boss of the German project developer believes the country’s nuclear phase out and energy turnaround can continue as planned while saving Germany several billion euros. But it will demand less support for offshore wind power, he said.
“Onshore wind energy is already cheaper than energy produced in coal or gas power plants,” Willenbacher said. “We have to continue to develop good sites and use the right technology. Taller towers and larger rotors guarantee that turbines generate more than 4000 full load hours a year, even with the same or a smaller generator output. Even offshore wind farms cannot produce significantly more.”
He insisted that every kilowatthour of wind energy produced close to the consumer and with the right technology leads to less need for reserve power plants. “Moreover, peak voltage power grids do not have to be developed and less than half of the storage capacity is needed,” he continued. “This concept leads to a dramatic reduction in the energy turnaround’s cost and guarantees that electricity will be available and affordable for everyone.”
juwi points out that a typical household in West Germany has to pay around €5000 a year for energy - about €2000 for heating (oil or gas) and mobility (gasoline or diesel). Around €1000 is paid for electricity. “Just €120 are used in connection with the German Renewable Energy Law (REL). These costs are often mistakenly equated with the cost for the energy transition,” the firm noted.
"Even if the REL differential costs rose to 160 or even 180 euros per household per year, this would still be cheaper than simply keeping on going," said Willenbacher. "Fossil fuels are becoming more expensive every year. This will also be reflected in the energy costs. In the area of renewable energy, however, a rapid development with innovations will guarantee that prices tumble.”
A wind turbine, he said, generates power at “constantly low costs” for around 25 years. “It is definitely cheaper than gas or coal-fired power plants."
Offshore too expensive
Willenbacher was also critical of the emphasis placed on offshore wind. "Onshore wind turbines generate by far the cheapest electricity," he said, adding that “offshore wind turbines are the most expensive way to produce energy”. He said the thousands of miles of power lines that would have to be constructed to accommodate output from planned offshore wind capacity would cost customers an estimated €20-30bn. "Big power companies are allowed to build their wind turbines in the North Sea, although no foreseeable grid connection is available," said the CEO, shaking his head. "Once again, consumers have to pay."
Willenbacher questioned the motivation of the Germany government in its support for offshore wind. He pointed out that the number of jobs currently associated with offshore wind farms is small so the fear of potential job losses in the sector could be ruled out as a reason for the ongoing government support. There are many more jobs in the solar industry, but “about a quarter of these jobs will probably be destroyed by the government’s decision to cut the growth rate”, he said.
"People looking for the real motives behind chancellor Merkel and her cabinet’s decisions in energy policy should look at who is investing in wind farms in the North and Baltic Seas," he continued. "It is the four German major power companies that are looking for a “compensation” for the loss of nuclear power plants to get even more money from consumers - even though they already earn more than what all customers have to pay for the REL.”
Getting the payment structure right
Willenbacher went on to insist that “the cost-cutting potential of onshore wind energy compared to offshore wind power can even be greater if the existing remuneration structure is changed”. In germany, a fixed rate of €0.09/kWh is paid for power from all wind plants for the first five years of operation. After then projects located at good wind speed sites are compensated with €0.05/kWh. "It is not clear to me why wind sites are remunerated with 9 cents per kilowatthour for five years or longer, although they produce power for 5,6 or 7 cents per kilowatt hour," Willenbacher said.
juwi argues for a model whereby very good sites “get the compensation that is necessary for efficient operation”. It suggests, for example, less €0.05/kWh for sites with excellent wind (about 8m/s at 150m hub height), with the rate then applying over the entire period of operation. “This means that the remuneration for less windy sites is higher - up to an amount that is close to today's initial compensation. If at the same time the remuneration period is extended to 25 years, thus taking into account the long operating life of the plant, enormous economic costs could be saved without slowing the rapid development of wind energy in Germany.”