Spiegel: Germany’s Large-Scale Offshore Windpark Dream Morphs Into An Engineering And Cost Nightmare

The print 35/2014 edition of Spiegel magazine focuses on the growing failure of Germany’s first ambitious offshore wind energy project, BARD Offshore 1, which aims to be a model for the world in providing clean, green energy on a large scale.

Bard Offshore windpark

BARD 1 windpark spooks the entire German offshore wind industry, plagued by major technical problems with no end in sight. Photo: Bard.

So far things hardly could have gotten any worse technically, and now financially and legally. For Germany, a highly admired nation when it comes to science, engineering, and technical prowess, the large scale energy project threatens to morph into an embarrassment of monumental dimensions. See more background here and here.

Fried electrical filters

The trouble surrounds the BARD 1 offshore windpark in the North Sea. Originally the park had been officially opened last year in August, but had to shut down almost immediately because of technical faults.

Then in March, 2014, engineers tried once again to bring the massive windpark online, again they were met with failure as “wild current” fried filters an offshore electrical converter station after a just a few mere hours.

Today, 6 months later, it appears engineers are not any closer to finding a solution.

Lost power valued at 340 million euros

The print edition of Spiegel writes that engineers are still scrambling to sort out the technical problems involved in bringing power from 80 turbines 100 km offshore through a converter station, and then onshore to markets. The project has now been delayed more than one year and Spiegel estimates that the lost power generation could be as high as 340 million euros in value.

Lawyers now getting involved

As the delays grow and financial losses mount, the investors and banks who had poured billions into the project are getting increasingly nervous. Spiegel writes that not only the hunt for the root cause of the technical problem is feverishly underway, but so is the hunt to find the responsible parties. Spiegel writes:

Indeed not only the engineers have been working feverishly on the repairs, but also lawyers are now involved. In the meantime everything has turned to the question of who is responsible for the fiasco – and the costs.”

Spiegel: “problem for entire green industry”

The problems at BARD 1 are so serious that Spiegel writes it is “a problem for the entire green energy industry“. The Trianel Windpark Borkum, Germany’s second major offshore wind project, is scheduled to come online this month, but now no one is sure whether or not the park will operate smoothly, Spiegel reports.

“It’s about a faulty total system”

The problem, Spiegel writes, is the great distance the windpark is located from the coast, which makes it impossible to bring the power onshore with conventional technology. The power cannot be transmitted through an underwater cable as alternating current, but rather must be transmitted as DC current. Unfortunately that task is proving not easy to manage.

Spiegel cites an expert on whether it will be possible to solve the big problems. Hans-Günter Eckel, Professor of Power Electronics at the University of Rostock:

Most likely there isn’t a single thing that is responsible, but rather it’s about a faulty total system. It’s going to require patience. It’s a completely new and complex technology.”

Spiegel sums it up:

The industry is nervous. At Trianel they have put off the decision to build an additional 200 MW windpark until further notice.

Suddenly everyone is now playing it safe – waiting to see if BARD 1 will make it. Finally they are beginning to think about whether the whole project is feasible or not – something that should have been done years and years ago.

One thing is becoming very clear: In the mad rush to green energy, investors and politicians leaped before they looked. Warnings were abundant, but were simply dismissed as offhand. Now the investors and proponents are moaning loudly about the hard landing that is coming soon.

Hat-tip: hajo.

55 responses to “Spiegel: Germany’s Large-Scale Offshore Windpark Dream Morphs Into An Engineering And Cost Nightmare”

  1. DICK R

    It would be wrong to laugh ,wouldn’t it ?

    1. Mary Kay Barton

      Actually, if you didn’t laugh, you’d have to cry at the complete FRAUD of the wind mess.

  2. Robin Pittwood

    I wonder if it’s due to high harmonic content. There could multiple zero crossings occurring making it nearly impossible for the control circuits to synchronise, resulting in short duration short circuits, starting some sort of horrible instability / chain reaction.

    1. DirkH

      The BARD 1 guys fumbled together their own AC voltage converter.

      After that comes the AC to DC converter by ABB. One of the two is faulty – or the specification for the AC between the two are ill defined or are violated by BARD 1’s AC to AC converter.

      ABB probably has the better chance of delivering something that works. As Pierre mentioned – expect lawsuits NOW.

      1. Henning Nielsen

        The answer is extremely simple: just play AC/DC from every turbine tower -that’s easy!

      2. John Silver

        Here is what ABB (ASEA) have done in HV DC:

    2. DirkH

      I think the financier of BARD 1 was some Russian oligarch and he wanted to save money on the boring electrical stuff…

    3. Billy

      I would guess that wind generators benefit from an AC connection to the grid for frequency stability. The HVDC link isolates the wind farm from grid frequency.
      Synchronizing unstable units together under variable load and wind conditions could be very difficult. There is no stable reference frequency for the individual controllers as they hunt for the correct settings of speed, voltage and power factor.

      1. Graeme No.3

        Excellent point. The standard turbine relies on power from the grid to start up. No grid connection, no start.
        I wonder if these BARD units are using asynchronous DC generation with a permanent magnet rotor? Avoids need for a gear box with costly repairs (almost certain).

      2. DirkH

        No, that’s irrelevant. The grid frequency in Germany varies anyway – intentionally. When it goes above 50 Hz, this signals to connected devices that are able to recognize that that the grid is nearing overload; when it goes below 50 Hz the opposite. This is used to regulate generators that feed in electricity; for instance the cogeneration gas heaters of large appartment blocks.

        Wind turbine generators are designed to not feed in when grid frequency is missing; so BARD 1 has to have a unit that initiates the “island grid”; but that is the least of the problems.

        1. Graeme No.3

          So they have an island grid but a DC feed to the mainland?

          But your response (which I agree is probable) doesn’t rule out BARD using DC generation and trying to control it with AC, which could well be the problem . Not being an electrical engineer I accept that I may be talking nonsense, but if the turbines are connected to the mainland grid there should be no control problems. It is standard workable control.

          Why are they getting “wild currents” ?

          1. DirkH

            Yes, Island AC grid, followed by AC voltage converter (AC to AC; this might be the unit causing the spikes or harmonics that cause the problems); followed by AC to HVDC converter (made by ABB); then undersea cable transmission to shore; where HVDC is converted back to HVAC for the main high voltage grid.

            They are in my opinion likely getting problems because BARD 1 did not buy the AC to AC voltage converter from a specialist company but tried to build a unit themselves. There’s a reason such units are expensive. You pay for the experience of the specialists. This looks very amateurish.

        2. Jean Demesure

          “When it goes above 50 Hz, this signals to connected devices that are able to recognize that that the grid is nearing overload”

          Normally, when there is overload or near overload on the grid, the generators spin more slowly and the frequency drops below 50hz.

          1. DirkH

            Maybe I got it the wrong way; thanks. I’m not an EE myself.

          2. DirkH

            Oh. I checked here
            which confirms you.

            I see where the problem is. I used the term overload and wanted to indicate “too much generation” with it; but of course overload = Überlast is better understood as too many consumers.

            So again, avoiding the term: When more energy is generated than consumed, the frequency rises; which is used as a signal to generators that they should reduce generation.

  3. John F. Hultquist

    We’ve been told wind power is free. Apparently this is a false statement.

    The BARD 1 photo is one taken during assembly – only 5 towers are up and there is a crane in the distance. Here’s a more recent one:

    I have never heard the term “wild current” before. They may need to install a giant battery on each tower so the current can be tamed. Sending direct current is not an untried technology, so I don’t think that is their problem.


    We have money meant for retirement invested in mutual funds holding stock in many large international companies. We will never know how much these green schemes have cost us in terms of direct losses from investments and lost opportunities. On top of those losses are the government interventions that are mostly negative, but in this case that is Germany’s problem – not mine.

  4. Stephen Richards

    Are these the ‘mills that are being turned by 25000 ltrs of oil / week to avoid bearing flats.

  5. Stephen Richards

    DC has a high resistor loss which heats the cables much more than AC and costs a fortune in lost power, IF I remember right.

    Apparently, being B-ve makes me subject to memory loss. I think I can confirm that result.

    1. DirkH

      “DC has a high resistor loss which heats the cables much more than AC and costs a fortune in lost power, IF I remember right.”

      I don’t think so. In both cases, R * I = Ulost; Ulost being the voltage lost at the resistor; and Ulost * I then being the power lost as heat. If the peak voltage of the AC is equivalent to the DC voltage used, you are right because we have to integrate over the AC sine wave; but we also transmit more power with the DC voltage.

      The only reason high voltage AC is generally used is that historically it was easy to have with rotating machines and transformers. Only now that we have high power semiconductor switches can we actually create HVDC with meaningful power for distance transmission (and you need high voltage to keep the current small, to be able to work with cables of small diameter). HVDC has the advantage of not suffering from the skin effect, exploiting the full cable cross section.

      1. Bone Idle

        For DC Ohms law wins every time whether or not you use high cross section conductors or low section. The internal resistance of a conductor is directly proportional to it’s cross sctional size.
        AC is easier to distrubute because it’s easier to convert to different volatges with simple transformers.
        We actually used thick copper Bussbars to convey DC.

        There must be a good external reason why they are not using AC cabling.

        1. DirkH

          “AC is easier to distrubute because it’s easier to convert to different volatges with simple transformers.”

          Yes, that’s what I said. Today, in cases where a “good reason” exists, we start using expensive AC to HVDC converters. The “Good reason” in this case is the cost-driving cross section of the undersea cable.

    2. DirkH

      …and cable cost of undersea cables is the critical factor. That’s why they are eager to use it there first.

  6. Loodt Pretorius

    coal is free, its been deposited by nature millions of years ago. All it needs are some stupid miners to dig it up and be ridiculed in the process of doing so.

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  9. Pointman

    Once the lawyers get involved, any large scale project is already doomed. The whole focus shifts to CYA rather than fixing problems.


    1. Bernd Felsche

      All of the A’s in the BARD debacle left the room a long time ago.

  10. Bernd Felsche

    BARD is offshore; a long way.

    If tied into the grid without a substantial buffer, the system will resonate resulting in equipment overloads and mis-matches of phase. This is difficult enough to manage in a stable supply-demand scanrio, but the management of transients intrinsically requires a shirtload more infrastructure and something other than AC nominally synchronised to the grid to transfer power from the sporadically intense wind generators.

    The most obvious way to make it “reliable” is to introduce a form of pumped storage where the wind capacity is used to pump up storage closer to the consumer grid and then to employ synchronous generators tapping off the storage. But the topography of the North Sea coastal region; and a fair distance inland; has them screwed. There are no convenient mountain ranges or even sizeable hills within 300km of the coast that’d be amenable to pumped storage of the requisite volume.

    So for “pumped storage”, they can only go submarine, expensively building voluminous undersea caverns below the North Sea and using them as an inverse reservoir volume with the wind power pumping water out of a sub-sea sump and hyrdoelectric turbines driven by the flow into the sump doing the actual generation. Easy enough until you run out of other people’s money. 😉

    HVDC should be easier. Until one considers the gigawatt scale of peak power. At 500kV DC, there’s still 2000 amps with which to deal. China, with ABB/Siemens, seem to be the champions in actually implementing HVDC; above land.

    Which brings us back to the issue identified by people in the industry over a decade ago; that wind power isn’t viable without an expensive and extensive grid, isolated from consumers, over which it can distribute energy. IIRC, there’s a need for about 2000 km of high-voltage transmission lines running mostly North-South in Germany, feeding electricity from the coast to the heavy consumers in Bavaria and B-W.

    Exploiting the “free” power from the wind is a very expensive exercise.

    1. Bernd Felsche

      P.S. ABB thinks BARD Offshore 1 is running. “Commissioning year: 2012”

      The wind farm is called BARD Offshore 1, a project of BARD Engineering GmbH, and consists of 80 wind generators rated at 5 MW each, located about 130 km off the German coast in the North Sea. Wind-generated power is fed into a 36 kV AC cable system and transformed on site at an offshore HVDC Light converter station. At the other end of the transmission is an onshore converter station at Diele 75 km from the German coast, where the power is received and injected into the German 380 kV grid.

      So HVDC isn’t as simple as it looks at first glance.

  11. Ronald Hansen

    Did anyone think to build a trial or research wind farm maybe 1 or 8 turbines 100 km offshore so that they could find out if the idea was even workable in the real (n0 models) world? Or did they jump onto the gravy train of “guaranteed” profits at the expense of the users of the electricity as well as the taxpayers?

    By the way, how much does it cost to keep ecah of the turbines turning when they are consuming rather than producing? Does the energy that turns the blades when not producing electricity come from power drained from the grid (which means from coal) or is gas or oil deliverd to each turbine via ships?

    As Bernd Felsche at
    12. September 2014 at 17:02 says-
    Exploiting the “free” power from the wind is a very expensive exercise.

    1. Chris Golightly

      This was a very good and informative article and discussion for a none electrical specialist who works in offshore wind. I have carried out a few structural engineering Due Diligence exercises on German and UK projects. It always seemed to me that the industry would leave AC behind and move to DC without excessive conversion etc. The informed discussions here confirm that. This would be surely the way in US in the future if it happens. BARD-1 was a bit of a unique one-off horror story for many reasons. The last questioner asked about a research site. the Alapha Ventus project had a lot of German federal investment:

  12. vonborks

    Solar and Wind generated electricity was not an engineering, economical nor a environmental recommendation, it was 100% a political decision. The results were predictable. Even if they get the system up and running the long term maintenance problems will be extremely expensive, the system should be scrapped immediately, it is what it is…

  13. Joe Public

    Every cloud has a silver lining.

    Consider the DM millions subsidies saved by energy users.

  14. Val Martin

    The problem is quite simple. Wind farms don’t work when they are on land beside the demand, so they are hardly going to work 60 miles off shore. Its hard to believe the Germans could fall for such baloney, but they did.

    1. Chris Golightly

      No that is not true. Onshore wind globally is now almost as cheap as solar PV and coal and cheaper than all others including hydro. In the US in many states it is cheapest of all. Offshore needs to improve. See the Bloomberg New Energy Finance/WEC Report from 2013 for a nice Figure 3 on Page 11:

      1. Graeme No.3

        If wind energy is so cheap, how is it that the cost of electricity rises in line with the amount of wind capacity?

        I think you are confusing price, i.e. the spot price of wind electricity dumped onto the market, with the actual cost. The owners of wind turbines have to take the spot price but usually gain from subsidies.
        Germany has much wind and solar PV capacity and the highest electricity prices in Europe, and about 4 times that of USA coal or hydro based states.
        Denmark has lot of wind turbines and very high electricity prices, so much so that the government there has banned any more turbines.
        In Australia, of all the states South Australia has 50% of the wind capacity in Aus. (and about 9% of the economy) and its electricity prices are the highest in the nation. If it wasn’t for cheap coal fired electricity from Victoria the State economy would collapse. Still out stupid politicians (who believe people like you) are working on that.

      2. Kurt in Switzerland

        Chris –

        Graeme is absolutely correct in his assessment of Wind Power Cost.
        The spot price is extremely volatile and has more to do with the market (supply and demand) than anything else.

        Renewable Energy producers are guaranteed a fixed price per theoretical kWh, without which these installations never would have received financing! (I say theoretical, because they are often paid despite delivering nil power, e.g., when disconnected due to grid saturation or lack of demand).

        This is an essential feature of power sources which are beholden to the whims of Mother Nature. The real economic disaster arises because of the unintended consequences of the Renewable Energy Law.

        Many people fail to grasp this (or conveniently sweep the discrepancy between spot price and true cost under the rug).

        If you can’t deliver power when it is needed, your power may be worse than worthless.

        Kurt in Switzerland

        1. Mary Kay Barton

          “If you can’t deliver power when it is needed, your power may be worse than worthless.” ~ AMEN!

      3. Herve D

        You contradict yourself: In case off-shore is already competitive, why does it need sp much incentive to attarct investors?
        The crude reality is not in hysterical propaganda: The annual rate of off-shore investments from Germany private sector is deeply spiralling down. Present new wind farms have been decided several years ago and cannot be stopped.
        National german disaster, the “Thing not to do”.

        1. DirkH

          I extrapolated the growth of renewable energy and the growth of the subsidies. We will be able to produce all our energy needs the moment we pay 100% of GDP for subsidies.

          That’s not too bad. It nearly makes it possible to survive.

  15. Kurt in Switzerland

    In terms of costly delays and mismanagement, this reminds me of Brandenburg Airport, another embarrassing “own goal” for the World Cup Champion.

    But the Renewable Energy Law itself is the root source of this insane and wasteful investment in massive solar and wind.

    Meanwhile, Climate Alarmists in other countries are “in denial” of Musterknabe Germany’s growing grid stability & economic problems due to intermittency, as well as the simultaneous growth in coal power.

    But none of this has any effect on climate!

    When will the madness end?

    Kurt in Switzerland

    1. Curious George

      Coal-generated power has no effect on climate, as long as it is a German power.

      1. DirkH

        The German Greens can ill afford to get too noisy about coal power. They got their nuke phase out and are approaching retirement age; trying to destroy coal power (more lignite than coal actually) would bring out the pitchforks in a hurry. Population already hates them for sky high electricity prices due to renewables; and for ongoing destruction of nature reserves by wind impeller construction).
        (You won’t find that expressed in any German newspaper. The journalists are Greens themselves mostly.)

        So in practise the Greens defend their last bastions of multiculturalism and s-3-xual (Ersatz) freedom.

    2. Brian H

      When? Maybe this winter. I don’t think the North Sea and North Atlantic like windfarms. And are quite capable of disposing of them.

  16. Robert Christopher

    A balanced AC three phase supply, with no net current through the common cable (because it is balanced!) will only have power losses in the other three cables. That has halved the power loss. Then stepping up the voltage, which is easier with AC, will also help.
    Whether you can easily get a balanced three phase supply is another matter.

    1. Hugo Bloemers

      The problem is that you will loose literally all your energy in parasitic capacities if you use AC power, being singe phase or 3 phase. The Dielectric constant of water is 1, of salt water probably above 1 (I did not verify that) whereas the dialectic constant of air is close to zero. Stepping up the voltage to minimise the resistive losses in a cable will only make the capacitive losses greater.
      There is no other way to solve this problem then to use DC voltage and step it up to an incredibly high voltage to minimise the resistive losses.
      The advantages are also that you have no need to balance the 3 phases, there is only one. And you only need a single cable with a single conductor, the sea is the return path, just stick a rod in the ground on each sides.
      The disadvantage: “Incredibly high voltage” should be taken literally, like hundreds of thousands of volts DC. Doing that with electronics, and on a notoriously unstable energy source (a wind mill) is really cutting edge technology.
      The thing is, that Germans are very very good at technology, so we can safely assume this is not a trivial issue. Never the less, being Germans, they will find a way.
      The problem is that Germans sometimes loose track of the political motives behind their ingenuity…

  17. Mary Kay Barton

    Folks shoud refrain from calling these massive, sprawling industrial wind factories the terms that have been created by the wind industry in the interest of increased wind turbine sales and positive public realtions — ie: “Wind Parks” (they are NOT parks!); “Wind Farms” (they are NOT farms!).

    What they should be called is what they are – The BIG SWINDLE! A FRAUD! The biggest transfer of wealth scheme to ever come down the pike! ENRON on steroids! LEMONS! Bird Cuisinarts! Giant pieces of junk! A complete waste of taxpayer and ratepayer money!

    I could on, but you get the picture. People need to stop playing into the wind industry’s hands, and stop repeating wind industry sales pitches.

  18. Doug Danhoff

    They state that the problem is the distance off shore, but that is just one of many.
    Coming to mind…. Wind power is totally useless as “base load ” power
    The corrosive action of sea salt shortens the usable life of all components
    The destruction of the smooth airfoil surface of the blades causing reduced airflow/more drag
    And the fact that onshore standby power must be ready and spun up 24/7 for immediate use when the wind is too light or heavy.
    It is at present levels of technology, impractical to build efficient wind power farms. Without subsidy the price would be too high, no one would buy it unless they were forced to.( and no one would force us to do that…oh, wait….)

    1. Herve D

      They are not built for electricity wind farms but simply for Money Farms.

  19. mwhite

    “The turbines in Devon and Cornwall came down when the wind was blowing at barely 50mph, despite the fact that they are supposed to withstand blasts of just over 115mph.”

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  21. Brian H

    The ‘mills will survive Atlantic storms as long as work crews keep the rotor blades smooth by polishing the salt off before the wind picks up.

    Oh, wait …

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