Green technology and specifically wind turbine technology was touted as a big part of sustainable, low carbon living in Northern European countries, such as the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, and all of the Scandinavian nations.
Therefore, green technology was also touted as a big, stable job creator. “Green jobs” was the talk everywhere. Massive Government subsidies were created in these countries especially for wind technology. The only job qualification – can’t have fear of heights. We will train you from there.
From 2002 to 2016 wind technology was booming. So why the sudden and big job cuts starting in 2016? Drive around the German coast and you’ll see wind turbines being dismantled. How is this possible? What is/are the reasons for it? Do we no longer need green energy? Are we returning to fossil fuels?
History of Wind Power
Northern Europe along both the North and Baltic Seas has a lot of wind most days. Thus, wind turbines all along the shores and offshore were installed in large numbers beginning in the early 2000s. Government subsidies for “clean energy” provided huge incentives for farmers and other property owners – farmers collected checks on longterm, 20-year leases and could now look at farming as a hobby! – I am not kidding! Wind energy was deemed to be a big part of all of these countries’ green technology goals.
According to Germany’s Bundesverband WindEnergy (BWE) the number of wind turbines in Germany alone grew to 29,456 onshore installed units with a production of approximately 53MW. Who knew that the number was this large?! See the chart below.
But notice the large production drip from 2017 – 2019:
Jobs in Wind Technology
According to the BWE wind technology jobs in 2016 numbered 160,200 across the entire wind technology sector, which includes turbine manufacturing, installation, and service. This was sharply curtailed to 135,100 in 2017 (last publicly available figures). The BWE reports that it expects further declines in future years.
It is important to point out that Germany is generally regarded as a leader in wind technology. The BWE makes mention of sharp job reductions in all of the other northern European countries with wind technology as well.
Why such a dramatic industry decline?
What happened in this green technology sector? And more importantly, what can we learn from Germany and its fellow European wind technology producing nations? There are several factors which occurred simultaneously:
- “Clean Energy Wire” reports that environmental groups have been sharply opposed to current wind turbines and are battling the industry in Germany’s courts. Why? The constant loud noise produced by wind turbines is a big negative environmental factor. If you have been near one, this constant noise is no joke!Recently, in June 2020 the BWE and Germany’s 16 states agreed that each state could set their minimum distance requirements. Previously the BWE dictated a 1,000 meters or 1Km distance to new turbine distance to residential areas of. It remains to be seen how this affects new installations.
- While record amounts of clean wind energy are being produced across northern Europe, the electric grid or transmission infrastructure is not sufficient to handle the load – literally. According to GTM TenneT, the main transmission operator, serving the Netherlands and parts of Germany, reports that “… in 2019 a record 20.2 terawatt-hours were created by wind turbines in Germany, which is enough to power 6 million households ( and most was lost to German consumers.”
This energy never reached the German consumer due to a lack of grid/infrastructure capability. The record production level record was not scored as a triumph and reportedly capacity was sold off cheaply to other countries.
Couldn’t this added grid need have been anticipated? Infrastructure contractors blame local resistance to large overhead transmission lines. Groundswell negative reactions are forcing the installation of more expensive and more time-consuming underground installations.
Dismantling of wind turbines
Many wind turbines are almost 20 years old. They were built with a 20-year lifespan. Indeed newer more efficient models exist today. Therefore, the old, first-generation wind turbines are being dismantled. However, given the over-capacity, many are not being replaced. This is reportedly the main reason why residents are seeing the dismantling of many wind turbines. It is not that wind technology as such failed.
The dismantling of wind turbines has its unknowns. How should the metal be recycled? While some metal reclaiming technology is starting to come forward, much more needs to be done to create a proper and efficient recycling process for wind turbine parts – stay tuned.
Lessons from Wind Technology
So, is green energy from wind technology a good thing? Should wind technology be part of the US energy grid where possible? Lesson One: Wind turbines must be kept away from populated areas. Even the latest generation equipment is producing constant, unbearable noise levels. Lesson Two: It is not enough to incentivize the installation of large wind turbines. Proper grid infrastructure has to also be put in place to bring produced power to end-users. This will take massive Government subsidies. SHG Living, the home improvement streaming service will continue to follow and report on the development of wind technology in Northern Europe.
Bird lovers will likely critique this article for not mentioning the harmful effects of wind turbines on bird migration. So let me mention it here since it is indeed yet another troubling side to wind technology. Bottom line: Green technology through wind is not without its issues which have to be weighed carefully against mining the earth with its harmful environmental effects.