Onshore wind power gaining traction: total capacity increases

Over the first six months of 2021, the expansion of onshore wind power capacity has accelerated compared to the same period the year before. This is a trend that had already begun in 2020.

Net capacity growth for onshore wind power in 1st semester of 2021© Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, based on data from: Bundesnetzagentur

They are our hope for a sustainable and climate-friendly energy supply and also Germany’s most-used renewables: wind and solar power have already become an indispensable part of the electricity mix. The expansion of wind and solar power is therefore recognised as a criterion for a successful energy transition. But what is the latest news about onshore wind power, which – unlike its offshore counterpart – is often harnessed in populated areas? The latest figures from 2021 make those rotor blades seem to be going round even faster.

High levels of new capacity added in the first half of 2021

In the first four months of 2021, Germany added 700 megawatts (MW) of capacity (gross figure), a figure that approximately corresponds to a 60% increase compared to the same period in the preceding year (430 MW). In terms of net figures (newly commissioned capacity per month, minus decommissioned old installations), Germany exceeded the necessary average expansion figures in four out of six months in the first semester of 2021. The net figure for June 2021, for example, is 179 MW.

A positive trend for onshore wind energy had already been perceptible in 2020, when the gross figure for added capacity was 1,385 MW compared to 1,078 MW in the preceding year, which is a 44% increase. Germany’s installed capacity in terms of onshore wind-powered installations stood at 54,4 GW in 2020, accounting for 23.7% of the country’s gross electricity consumption.

Action to further increase onshore wind power capacity

Important measures to strengthen the use of onshore wind energy were already taken back in 2020. The 2021 Renewable Energy Sources Act stipulates a new clause on the financial involvement of municipalities along with new, ambitious expansion targets combined with the corresponding auction volumes. Measures to ensure better compatibility, e.g. with civil aviation navigation systems, were also taken.

Under the Investment Acceleration Act, the course of legal action in cases of lawsuits being brought against approvals under immission control law was streamlined and the possibilities to cause delays by filing lawsuits and complaints against such approvals restricted. The Federal Immission Control Act was amended to accommodate re-powering projects for onshore wind installations. All this is to ensure that, in line with the 2021 Renewable Energy Sources Act, 71 GW of installed capacity will be available by 2030.

Beyond new capacity, the measures that have been implemented and initiated are also to result in more projects being approved and in tougher competition in the auctions. Between January and December 2020, new approvals for almost 3,300 MW were issued – representing an increase of 70% year on year.

Night-lighting, new navigation solutions, biodiversity portal

A new, needs-based night-lighting solution is in place for existing and new wind farms. Operators have until 2022 to make the necessary changes. Red lamps will only be able to flash when an aircraft is approaching. The 2021 Renewable Energy Sources Act also stipulates that the municipalities can benefit financially from the expansion of wind energy. Operators of wind-powered installations are free to pay a share of the revenue from the electricity generation to municipalities located in a 2.5 km periphery of a given installation.

The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy also supports the replacement of radio navigation equipment with models that are less affected by wind-powered installations. Over the coming years, the switchover to satellite-based navigation systems and the use of new technology to calculate disruptions within radio navigation equipment could result in additional land becoming available for the expansion of onshore wind-powered capacity.

In 2020, the conference of ministers of the environment took a number of decisions that will make it easier for planners of new wind-powered installations to comply with the rules to protect biodiversity. For the time being, however, these remain one of the largest obstacles to a swift expansion of wind power.