August 31, 2021

Wind Over Coal: German Plant Aims to Reduce Emissions with New Energy Focus

Wind energy is a promising source of alternative, non-fossil-fuel-based electricity. Wind turbines…
Avatar Clare Scott

Wind energy is a promising source of alternative, non-fossil-fuel-based electricity. Wind turbines are a common sight in many locations, resembling giant fans across the landscape. While wind turbines have been in existence for decades, they have become larger in size in recent years, generating more power.

How, exactly, do wind turbines generate electricity? The rotor blades are key to the turbine’s operation; as wind flows across the blades, the rotor spins. The rotor is connected to a generator, and as the aerodynamic force is translated to the generator, electricity is created.

Wind turbines are commonly grouped together in wind power plants, which are located according to factors such as wind conditions and surrounding terrain. These plants also contain a substation, to which the turbine-generated electricity runs. Within the substation, transformers convert the electricity from high voltages to lower, safe voltages.  A transmission system, consisting of a transmission tower and transmission lines, then carries the electricity from the substation to consumers.

The construction of wind turbines is not without its challenges. Huge forces are exerted on wind turbines, and especially as their size increases the blades are subject to deformation. Noise is also a concern as regulations tighten; wind turbines must be designed not only to be effective but to be quiet as well. Simulation is highly necessary to address these concerns, as these are issues that would be costly and time-consuming to test with physical prototypes.

Despite the challenges, many governmental organizations are focusing their attention on the development of renewable energy infrastructure. A German coal plant recently shut down after only six years of operation, and the plant’s owner, Vattenfall, announced their intention to instead pursue the transformation of offshore wind energy into hydrogen power. [1] The coal plant shutdown was part of an initiative by the German government that will require every coal plant in the country to stop their operations by 2038. This particular plant, located in Hamburg, took a decommissioning payment and shut down early.

The shutdown of the Hamburg plant, according to NGO Robin Wood, will reduce Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 9 million tons. Vattenfall had also been seeing a reduction in profit from the coal plant, particularly amid rising prices for the generation of CO2 emissions under the European Emission Trading System. In contrast, wind and solar are the cheapest forms of energy production, with some wind parks receiving as little as three cents per KWh – predicted to decrease to two cents over the next few years. [2]

Wind turbines are also 80 to 90 percent recyclable, as only the blades can currently not be recycled. This may change in the future, however, with a major OEM pledging to create a zero-waste wind turbine by 2040. [3]

The coal plant’s shutdown in favor of wind energy is part of a larger European trend towards cleaner forms of electricity. The European Union has set a goal of reducing Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent and increasing renewable energy by 27 percent by 2030. [4] The far-reaching plan, known as the European Energy Union, seeks to make renewable energy affordable, competitive, secure and sustainable.

No technology, especially newer technology, is introduced without bumps along the way, and switching from one form of energy to another requires huge investments. A plan like the European Energy Union, however, aims to make those investments pay off, not only financially but in terms of a healthier planet and population.

While some pushback may be expected from the fossil fuel industry, the agreement to close down the Hamburg coal plant shows that certain major industry players are willing to work with the European government to pursue its clean energy goals.

For more on wind energy and simulation, please attend the Wind and Drivetrain Conference, taking place on April 6-7, 2022.

[1] Brad Bergan, “German Coal Plant Closes After Just Six Years to Produce Wind-Based Energy.” 


[3] Lisa Ekstrand, “Zero-waste turbines by 2040.”

[4] Robin Whitlock, “What is the European Energy Union?”

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