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German academics raise pointless argument in favor of onshore wind

A bunch of German academics have got together and counted up most of the potential wind farm sites in Europe worth building, and reckon the capacity comes to more than all the electrical energy needed in Europe. Shame that it would all be intermittent and breach most planning laws.

If you were to give that type of information to Sweden’s Greta Thunberg, she would ask you to go ahead and get on with building them all, but instead we believe that report has emerged purely as a response against permitting problems in Germany, the UK and elsewhere. It concludes that there are “more” sites than were originally thought and that they can all be built for an average LCOE of around 6 Euro cents per KWh or €60 per MWh.

Nimbyism, or the “not in my backyard” syndrome, is perhaps the biggest obstacle to onshore wind – currently the cheapest form of energy, to it taking over the planet. People love driving past wind turbines, or seeing them way off at sea, but they hate the idea of one in their village. There have been all sorts of claims about them causing hearing defects, and everything up to “brain cancer,” to quote a famous politician.

Perhaps this is why the Haliade-X from GE with its 107 meter blade span is described as an “offshore” wind turbine – because the size is just getting too mind boggling to seriously consider on land. The turbine makers are clear that they can continue to get more and more power from a wind turbine all the way up to 150 meter long blades and this will give a significant amount of extra energy than they do today.

Of course if Europe really considered the situation it is in as a climate crisis, countries all over Europe would pass planning laws that make it virtually impossible to block a wind farm and which shortcut the process. This has not yet happened and countries like India and Germany, where this research was carried out, have failed to find enough bidders for onshore wind auctions. There was only 134 MW of onshore wind capacity installed in Germany during Q1, a fall of 87% on this time last year, and nowhere near enough.

The research, published in the Elsevier science journal Energy, was conducted by David Severin, Ryberg, Dilara Gulcin Caglayan, Sabrina Schmitta, Jochen Linßena, Detlef Stolten, Martin Robinius and they attend either the  Institute for Electrochemical Process Engineering or the Mechanical Engineering department at Aachen University.

By 2050 they say Europe could add 13.4 TW of electrical capacity using onshore wind, delivering some 34.3 PWh of average generation per year.

This was all done simply by working out the best physical installations, and multiplying out their generation capability. No-one has worked out what all that would cost of how long it would take.

An increased rollout of onshore wind turbines across Europe could technically provide it with more than 10 times its existing electricity needs, according to the new paper.

Crucially this cannot be exact as development pipelines, which have clear long term wind speed indicators, but the authors claim this is as close as you can get, with existing wind speed records. They have also assumed that you CAN install these newer, larger wind turbines, although the social reaction to them has been totally ignored.

The team of researchers then go on to freely admit that wind cannot REALLY bring 100% of Europe’s electrical energy, so what is the point of the paper? It is merely an illustration that it is simply political will that is too weak to get the 2050 zero carbon job done and in the light of fresh impetus behind EU rules on zero carbon, they clearly thought such an illustration might help.

Our own point of view is that the emergence and success of offshore wind of all types – fixed bottom in particular, but floating also –  should be explored in greater detail, not onshore, purely because of the resistance to onshore, and we should maximize these other approaches first. But they need to put timelines and costs on them to gain government approval and consent.

The researchers make the point that in the UK in particular, and in other parts of Europe, tighter planning rules have effectively blocked onshore wind’s progress since 2015.

The fact that this particular study has shown slightly more capacity to be available is simply a function of when it was conducted, as larger turbines are emerging, and it serves no greater point than illustration that the 2050 targets can be met.

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