Interview with Dr Ursula Prall, legal practitioner
Renewable Energy Hamburg: What are the limits to the expansion of German offshore in the North Sea and Baltic? Are there perhaps various different estimates? If so, why?
Dr Ursula Prall: In the draft version of one space allocation concept, the ‘climate protection scenario’ predicts 40 to 50 GW in the North Sea and Baltic. Other studies arrive at higher estimates, up to 70 GW. The question of how much space to allocate to any particular use is a question of priorities, in which various interests must be balanced. However, prioritisation is permissible – and in our opinion, climate protection is such an urgent matter that space allocation policy must place a clear emphasis on wind energy. We must continue the process of ‘acclimatising’ traditional users to offshore wind energy, which will also continue to require people to change their perspective.
Renewable Energy Hamburg: Do you think there’s a realistic chance of shortening the time it takes to create offshore parks in German waters with the assistance of the responsible authorities?
Dr Ursula Prall: The German Offshore Wind Energy Act (WindSeeG) sets out clear steps that must be completed both by public bodies and by operators or companies that have been awarded a contract in the tendering process. The long drawn-out nature of this process – at least ten years from 'sign on the dotted line' to commissioning – doesn't depend on who carries out the individual actions. However, in view of this long duration and of the experience and increased knowledge we now have, the entire regulatory system (law, administrative practice, planning practice) should be re-examined. 'Time wasters' should be identified and we should then assess whether there are any opportunities for tightening things up. Nevertheless, we have to be clear about one thing: we’re dealing with a fundamental systemic change here. As soon as this system is working smoothly and we’ve overcome the time delay caused by the transition, the entire process for each area will still be time-intensive, but we'll then see annual growth to the scheduled extent, and large parts of the preparatory planning will no longer be really visible or noticeable for developers and operators.’
Renewable Energy Hamburg: In the field of conservation, where do you think the greatest challenges for the offshore wind industry in the North Sea and Baltic lie at present?
Dr Ursula Prall: Using wind energy and conserving nature are not in opposition to one another. As a climate protection tool, wind energy benefits conservation and, by creating functioning ecosystems, conservation facilitates climate protection. By consistently developing conservation standards and then applying them, in recent years we’ve been able to achieve environmental compatibility regarding really fundamental issues, for example noise protection. The challenge is the same as with other interests competing for use: How can we achieve a suitable balance between the demands for space? How can we reduce spatial constraints, for example by means of noise protection measures? From our point of view, it doesn’t make sense to consider a problem like this in terms of only two usages, or even to subconsciously place them in opposition to one another. Everything must be taken into account together, and our starting point must be wherever the best balance between costs and benefits is found in this holistic view. And I mean that not just in an economic sense but also with regard to the reconciliation of usages.
Renewable Energy Hamburg: Will hydrogen production in offshore parks eventually triumph, or will it remain a marginal phenomenon?
Dr Ursula Prall: Right now, hydrogen production in offshore wind parks isn’t even a marginal phenomenon any longer – just as offshore wind parks were no longer a marginal phenomenon by the year 2000. There’s a great demand for novel energy sources that are green, and offshore wind parks deliver green electricity. This demand, therefore, will also be met by the use of electricity from offshore wind parks. So the answer to your question is quite definitely ‘yes’: hydrogen production in offshore wind parks, or with electricity from such parks, will triumph in the end. Innovation, creative thinking and creative design are needed more urgently than ever. So, contrary to what some people might have been thinking until not so long ago, the construction of the energy industry landscape is still far from over!
Thank you for your time and your stimulating assessment!