Wind power is the most important component of Germany’s green energy transition. The end of subsides for older turbines, however, threatens countless wind farms. By 2023, more than a quarter of Germany’s onshore wind farms may be gone.
Several thousand wind turbines in Germany are likely to be closed down in the next decade because they will no longer receive any subsidies. “If electricity prices do not rise over the next decade, only a few plants will survive on the market without subsidies,” says an analysis by the Berlin-based consulting firm Energy Brainpool. This assessment is shared by most professionals. “In any case, by 2020, the shutdown of existing facilities is to be expected to a greater or lesser extent,” an article by several economists of the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Leipzig concludes.
The sticking point is the electricity price of 2021, which nobody knows today. Older wind turbines who have been running for 20 years or more will lose their subsidies under the Renewable Energy Act (EEG), but not their operating permit. They could go on generating power, if they would be profitable. Like all older technology, after 20 years of wear and tear, wind turbines are prone to repairs and are more maintenance-intensive than new products. Operating costs are higher too. The current electricity price of around three cents per kilowatt hour would not be enough to keep wind farms running – with perhaps a few exceptions in particularly good locations.
By 2021 alone, 5,700 wind turbines with a capacity of 4,500 megawatts will be closed down. In the following years, 2,000 to 3,000 megawatts each will be decommissioned. The German Wind Energy Association estimates that by 2023 around 14,000 megawatts of installed capacity will be gone. That would be more than a quarter of the currently installed onshore wind power capacity which would be eliminated.
The planned expansion corridor for onshore wind energy envisages that 2,900 megawatts of power will be installed in 2020 and in subsequent years. But that’s gross, not net. Decommissioned and dismantled facilities are not considered. In light of the current situation, more wind capacity would be decommissioned than new capacity added. Onshore wind energy would shrink, not grow.