Expansion of wind power – progress at a snail’s pace

Windräder stehen hinter den Solarzellen einer Solarkraftanlage (picture alliance/dpa

People in the floodplains, especially in West Germany, had to directly experience the consequences of neglecting climate protection. Science agrees that extreme rainfall also contributes to global warming – just like the recent heat waves that accompanied devastating wildfires in North America, Siberia and now Greece. Many human lives are to be mourned – and the loss runs into the billions.

The expansion of wind power has accelerated

But something is happening, at least in Germany: the expansion of wind power accelerated in the first half of 2021. 240 new wind turbines were installed on the ground, about 60 percent more than a year ago. At first glance, this is an obvious increase. But on closer inspection you can lose your joy – it’s progress at a snail’s pace. Because despite the acceleration, the expansion of wind power is nowhere near enough to achieve the goals of the energy transition. Germany wants to get two-thirds of its electricity from renewable sources by the end of the decade. By then CO2 emissions have to be reduced by 60 percent below 1990 levels and our country has to be climate-neutral by 2045. The federal government and the Bundestag set themselves these high goals following a decision by the Federal Constitutional Court in the spring, and they represent new ambitions to safeguard the natural foundations of life.

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However, such goals are useless if they are not implemented. The decisive lever here is the replacement of coal and gas, particularly with wind and solar power. It has to come much faster than previously planned. First, because electricity generation is still the biggest source of climate-damaging greenhouse gases. About half of our electricity now comes from renewable sources. But first they replaced nuclear power, which is also CO2-efficient, reducing their contribution to the climate.

Climate protection leads to a higher demand for electricity

Another reason for the rapid expansion of renewable energy is that climate protection creates a higher demand for electricity in other regions. The main effects are the introduction of the electric car, the replacement of gas and oil heating systems with heat pumps, and the electrification of industrial processes. Federal economics minister Peter Altmeier recently had to admit that he had underestimated the expected standby power consumption. If it is not possible to install enough wind turbines, there is a risk that lignite combustion will actually end by 2038. This date, which is too late in the international comparison, is included in the coal deal, but it is not compatible with the German climate goals.

In the case of wind power, the rate of expansion should at least double in the next few years. But politics has never removed barriers to expansion. There are distance regulations for residential developments that greatly limit the available space for new wind turbines. The required distances are particularly large in Bavaria, where almost no wind turbines have been built, despite all the climate acknowledgments of CSU Prime Minister Markus Söder. In addition, there are bureaucratic constraints that extend the planning time. Nature conservation requirements are misused to prevent expansion, for example legitimate concerns of bird conservation can often be taken into account with closing times. Ultimately, a clear plan for expansion is needed: wind farm projects are awarded through tenders and the government is responsible for increasing their numbers.

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Paris Agreement climate targets unlikely to be met

Unfortunately, the previous federal government has largely limited itself to setting high goals in climate protection. The successor has to explain how it will implement it. There should also be a focus on the rapid expansion of wind energy and photovoltaics.

In November, the international community wants to take stock of a climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland. It is already estimated that hardly any country is doing enough to meet the climate target of the Paris Agreement – ​​even Germany’s high targets are not yet enough. This is another reason to move fast with the expansion of wind power.

Georg Ehring (Deutschlandradio / Bettina Fürst-Fastré)Georg Ehring (Deutschlandradio / Bettina Fürst-Fastré)George Ehring, born 1959, studied journalism and political science in Dortmund and later studied economics at Hagen Open University. He works as editor-in-chief of Economics and the Environment at Deutschlandfunk. Previous professional positions were the central business editorial office of the Reuters news agency in Bonn and, prior to that, in the 1980s, mainly freelance work for the WDR in Dortmund.

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