Wheezy Breeze

The Answer is Not Blowing in the Wind

Nordex Rotorblatt_DPA
We'll take a truckload of them.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The costs of alternative energy could fall if German wind turbine makers succeed in generating electricity from areas with only light breezes.

  • Facts


    • Germany has roughly 23,000 wind turbines spread across the country.
    • Power generated from wind currently provides about 7.5 percent of the nation’s electricity consumption.
    • Nordex in Germany, Danish company Vestas, and General Electric in the U.S are all developing light wind turbines
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The enormous curved blade is sitting on a huge vehicle trailer near the entrance to Hamburg’s trade fairground. Nearly 65 meters (210 feet) long, it is among the largest wind turbines in Germany, and forms the primary component of the equipment maker Nordex’s new 130-meter rotor turbine. It’s no ordinary windmill.

“They are particularly suited for weak wind sites,” said Juergen Zeschky, the chief executive of Nordex, which is also based in Hamburg. “Therefore it is often in demand in developed markets such as Germany, France and Great Britain.”

Germany, a country that is actively transitioning from fossil fuels to alternative energy, is running out of space to build more wind turbines. Nearly all the good locations, especially in the north of the country, have long since been snapped up. The only spots left are in regions where the wind is gentler than at the blustery coasts.

Companies such as Nordex, Vestas in Denmark and General Electric in the U.S. are fully aware of this and have been busy developing turbines for light-wind areas that only a few years ago would not have been able to justify turbines.

“Our goal is to produce wind power as cost-effectively as power from coal within five years.”

Juergen Zeschky, Chairman of turbine-maker Nordex

The market is growing rapidly. The German Wind Energy Association (BWE) said that Bavaria, Hessen and Rhineland-Palatinate had focused on harnessing energy from areas of light wind this year. These states installed new wind-turbines with a combined capacity of 390 megawatts in the first six months of this year. That was almost a quarter of all new wind turbines.

Large-rotor models make up about half of Nordex’s sales and Mr. Zeschky said he expects this figure to grow in the coming years.

The company has concentrated its long-blade production at its plant in Rostock, in the north German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern on the Baltic Sea coast. Smaller blades come from suppliers.

The new models, designed to exploit gentle breezes, have higher towers than normal turbines to maximize wind capture. Their longer rotor blades are also produced from a lighter material. Together, this means they can spread out over a larger surface area and  produce more power than other turbines.

Enercon, the wind-turbine pioneer from the northern German city of Aurich in Lower Saxony, pioneered the new wind-turbine type and launched a prototype last year.

Enercon pioneered the new wind-turbine type and launched a prototype last year.

Back then, Hans-Dieter Kettwig, the Enercon chief executive officer, said: “It will be our bread-and-butter machine for the coming years.”

This year, Enercon started production of its E115 model designed to capture high-flying wind.

“The new machine has been well received by our clients,” he told Handelsblatt in an interview, adding that his company was preparing to export beyond Europe.

The new, massive wind machines aim to lower the cost of power generation.

“Our goal is to produce wind power as cost-effectively as power from coal within five years,” Mr. Zeschky, the Nordex chief executive, said.

All manufacturers are working on increasing the efficiency of wind machines and lowering production costs. Enercon’s rotor blade can be divided into two parts, which makes transportation easier. The company is also using robots to help to produce rotors.

Senvion, another Hamburg-based company, wants to blow into the growing market for weak-wind turbines. Andreas Nauen, its chief executive, introduced a model at the Hamburg fair that improves efficiency by using a more powerful generator, the part of a turbine that converts wind into electrical energy. “Thus we achieve higher performance with the same tower height at the same location,” he said.

He also pointed out another benefit of his not-so-giant towers: Clients will have an easier time obtaining permits because the height of the new, more efficient turbines – often a sore point among local residents – will be the same as normal towers.

The author covers the wind, solar and construction industries for Handelsblatt. To contact him: weishaupt@handelsblatt.com

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