Onshore wind power currently makes up 8 percent of German power supply – and provides almost half of Germany's renewable electricity. In 2011, the more than 22,000 wind turbines installed in Germany with a total capacity of around 29,000 megawatts provided clean power for companies and households. In addition to the growing number of wind turbines, an individual turbine's output has risen dramatically over the past two decades. In the 1990s, a 600 kilowatt turbine was the standard, but the largest turbines currently being installed have an output of 7.5 megawatts. In addition, the number of full-load hours has risen, thereby increasing the amount of wind power each turbine produces.
But the amount of power is not the only thing that shows what a difference wind power can make – cost in particular is perhaps the best argument. Onshore wind power is the least expensive source of renewable energy. In 2011, the feed-in tariff for onshore wind was below nine cents per kilowatt-hour. In other words, while wind power makes up nearly half of the renewable electricity generated in Germany, it only makes up 20 percent of the cost for renewable power in the country. At present, most wind turbines have been installed in northern and central Germany, especially in the states of Lower Saxony, Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt, and Schleswig-Holstein. However, recent technological and political events mean that wind turbines are increasingly being installed in southern Germany as well. Indeed, a study conducted by the Fraunhofer Institute for Wind Energy and Energy System Technology (IWES) found that Bavaria in particular has tremendous wind power potential, though Baden-Württemberg also does.
Onshore wind power creates jobs within Germany. In 2009, more than 100,000 people were employed in the sector. When we break down job creation state by state, we find that jobs are created everywhere in Germany. By 2030, as many as 160,000 people could be employed in the onshore wind power sector.
Regional growth driver – a win-win situation
Everyone – from system owners to planners and investors (communities, local businesses and citizens) – benefits from properly designed renewable projects. Jobs are created when wind turbines are installed and kept in operation. When citizens groups are behind wind farms, contracts for new roads, foundations, and servicing are often awarded to local firms. Farmers can establish an additional source of income when they start producing energy and energy crops, and local government benefits from the additional trade tax. Furthermore, leasing income is mostly local and strengthens purchasing power in the community. Indeed, communities that have completely switched to a local renewable power supply now attract visitors from all over the world. The Bioenergy Village of Jühnde in Lower Saxony, Dardesheim – the Renewable Energy Town in the Harz Region – and the Morbach Energy Landscape in the Hunsrück Region are excellent examples of how small, rural communities can profit from renewable energy.
Community ownership – wind farms owned by local citizenry
In Germany, projects are often funded with shares purchased not only by energy firms, but also local businesses, associations, and even individual citizens. Wind farms generally require considerable upfront investments. For individuals, such investments are relatively hard to make. But when a number of local market participants come together to contribute funding, expertise, and time, people can see their ideas come to fruition together. In a way, it's all about doing more as a community. People in communities can use such renewable energy projects to strengthen their regions and step up local climate protection efforts.
Citizen-owned wind farms ideally come about in close cooperation between the initiators (often local people), the communities involved, and the local population. The investment sums are kept to a minimum for locals, who are also given preference over out-of-town investors when shares are divvied out, dividends paid, and leases signed; all of this ensures that there is great local involvement and acceptance. For instance, people who own property adjacent to installed systems can also sign leases for access roads and cables that cross their property.
In this way, citizens also financially benefit from the clean income from "their" wind farm. These wind farms also offer communities additional sources of income in the form of trade tax, thereby opening up new financial leeway.
In northern Germany, wind farms initiated by local people are the norm, not the exception, in some areas, such as northern Frisia, Germany's northernmost county. In the mid-1990s, the first community-owned wind farms were built here. The initiators first started looking for suitable sites for community projects and the contracted a number of studies. The sites were to have the lowest possible impact in terms of noise and shading. As a result, local acceptance of wind farms was considerably improved. Today, 90 percent of wind farms in northern Frisia are owned by citizens, including the wind farms in Ellhöft (50 shareholders) and Galmsbüll (170 shareholders).
In other words, community ownership leads people to identify with their community's energy policy. Citizens can become involved and play a local part in creating a distributed energy supply and in protecting the climate.
A large majority of people are very open to wind power. Independent surveys conducted by research institutes demonstrate the great support for more renewable energy. Nonetheless, opinions differ on whether wind turbines have a social impact.If popular opinion prevails, Germany's energy supply will mainly switch to solar and wind power over the next few decades. A representative survey conducted in 2011 by TNS Infratest on behalf of Germany's Renewable Energy Agency found that 94% of German citizens want more renewable energy. In addition to greater independence from fossil fuels (such as coal, oil, and gas), the reasons included positive effects on the environment and climate, job creation, and lower energy prices over the long term. In terms of future generations, renewable energy technologies are proving to be more future-proof than conventional energy sources.
Overall, two thirds of Germans want wind energy to grow. 71 percent want offshore wind turbines to be set up off the German coast. Indeed, NIMBY-ism ("not in my back yard") is less of a problem with renewables than with conventional power. TNS Infratest survey found that support for wind turbines nearby is especially high among people who have already had experience with wind turbines near them. For instance, 69 percent of those surveyed who had lived near a wind farm said that it was very good or good to have wind turbines in close vicinity compared to 60 percent of those who had no previous experience. The substance of wind turbines is especially great where local citizens were able to directly invest in community-owned wind farms – and hence reap part of the profits.
Nonetheless, there are some communities that do not want to have turbines built nearby for a wide range of reasons. If renewables are to continue to grow, great local acceptance will be one of the main challenges. Community ownership will play a crucial role here. After all, the inclusion of the local population in an early phase of planning helps dispel myths and ensures that projects can rely on broad support.