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German energy: White elephants seen in North Sea

July 4, 2013

The calm before the storm
HAVING decided to shut its nuclear power plants over the coming decade, Germany?s big idea for keeping the lights on is the Energiewende, or energy transition, a state-backed drive towards renewable energy. One of its most ambitious elements is to build 14 gigawatts (GW) of wind turbines off the North Sea and Baltic coasts by 2023, to provide about 9% of the country?s electricity needs by then. In the North Sea eight huge platforms will also be built, each seven storeys high and the size of a football pitch, to collect the output from the windmills, convert it into high-voltage direct current and then send it ashore through cables.The technology for building and operating this sort of transmission system in the howling gales of the German Bight is largely untried. And once the cables reach shore they will have to pass through populated areas on their way to connect with Germany?s central power grid. To appease NIMBYs (those who reflexively say ?not in my backyard?) some of the lines may have to be buried, at further great expense: perhaps 25 times the cost of stringing the cables on...

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