Federal Office: Offshore expansion in a quarter of the German maritime zone

The expansion of offshore wind energy that the federal government is aiming for means the development of up to a quarter of the German exclusive economic zone in the North and Baltic Seas with wind farms.

Federal Office: Offshore expansion in a quarter of the German maritime zone

The expansion of offshore wind energy that the federal government is aiming for means the development of up to a quarter of the German exclusive economic zone in the North and Baltic Seas with wind farms. According to calculations by the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH), the wind farms would take up around 20 to 25 percent of the area.

“One should not forget that a wind farm consists of individual turbines that are 800 to 1,000 meters apart from each other,” said the head of the “Order of the Sea” department, Nico Nolte, on Tuesday in Hamburg. However, he is optimistic that the Federal Office will be able to cope with its ambitious tasks.

The exclusive economic zone - previously called the 200 mile zone - includes almost 33,000 square kilometers of the North and Baltic Seas, which lie outside the territory but may be used economically by Germany. For comparison: According to the Federal Environment Agency, two percent of the area on land should be made available for the expansion of wind energy.

The federal government wants 70 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2045

The traffic light government wants to increase the installed capacity of offshore wind energy to 70 gigawatts by 2045. There are currently 1,564 wind turbines with a total output of 8.4 gigawatts off the coast of the North and Baltic Seas. Four additional wind farms with an output of 2.54 gigawatts are currently under construction. According to the Federal Wind Energy Association, offshore turbines with an output of 0.257 gigawatts were added last year; this year it is expected to be 0.718 gigawatts.

The Federal Office's current area development plan contains the expansion target of 30 gigawatts by 2030. The next revision will identify suitable areas for expansion up to 70 gigawatts in 2045. Based on the average output of current wind turbines, there should be more than 13,000 turbines off the German coast in 22 years, i.e. a good eight times as many as there are now. According to the Federal Office, it should be noted that a wind turbine can only be operated for 20 to 25 years, meaning that most existing wind turbines will have to be replaced by 2045.

No lowering of standards for nature conservation

“The energy transition is changing the use of the North and Baltic Seas to an unprecedented extent,” said the President of the Federal Office, Helge Heegewaldt. The competition for land for fishing and shipping is growing. However, he emphasized: "We are convinced that offshore wind energy is an elementary building block for transforming our energy system and curbing climate change." Nolte assured that the high standards for marine nature conservation will remain when designating the areas and approving the facilities: "There will be no lowering of the standards." At the same time, he explained that wind farms are also developing into refuges for marine life. The foundations of the wind turbines would immediately be colonized by mussels and algae, which would attract fish. The animals in the vicinity of wind farms are left alone from the ground-level fishing.

Coasts at risk from storm surges

The safety of the coasts in Germany is also increasingly threatened by extreme natural events, said Heegewaldt. There have been 16 storm surges in the North Sea since mid-September. Normally only four to six storm surges would be recorded between September 15th and March 31st. The highest water levels since 1872 were measured on the Baltic Sea from October 19th to 21st, 2023. In Flensburg the water rose to 2.27 meters above the average water level. At 54 hours, the storm surge also lasted unusually long. Weather events of this kind are promoted by rising sea levels, explained the BSH President.

Baltic Sea benefits from North Sea storm surge

However, long-term observations did not show any significant changes in the frequency of storm surges. These natural events could also have positive consequences. “Our patient, the Baltic Sea, has been suffering from a lack of oxygen for years,” said Heegewaldt. The storm surge caused by the depression "Soltan" washed 200 cubic kilometers of oxygen-rich North Sea water with around 1.6 gigatons of salt into the Baltic Sea in December. That's 20 percent of the normal annual intake. “This North Sea water is now distributed in the Baltic Sea. It could reach regions that are rarely ventilated,” said Heegewaldt.

PM of the Federal Association of Offshore Wind Energy v. 1/30/24 press release from. 12.3.24

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