Irina Lucke, pioneer of offshore wind power: “Facing highs and lows together”Wind energy
An interview with Irina Lucke, wind energy pioneer and chairperson of wind energy agency WAB
Irina Lucke has been at the helm of WAB since December 2016. WAB is the network of the wind energy industry, and has 350 member companies from across the entire value chain. It is the most important German association of the wind energy sector.
Lucke, whose main job is managing director of EWE Offshore Service & Solutions GmbH, is a pioneer of offshore wind power and was involved in the construction of Germany's first offshore wind farm, alpha ventus. As one of the few female managing directors in the wind energy industry, she has made a name for herself as the person responsible for the construction of Borkum-Riffgat, the first commercial offshore wind farm in the North Sea. We talked about her role in the trade association and the challenges that an ever-changing business and regulatory environment poses for the wind energy industry.
Ms Lucke, you have been chairperson for eight months now – what made you take on this role after four years on the board?
I have been working in the offshore sector for eleven years, and joined WAB in 2005. Over the years, the association has opened many doors and created many opportunities for me and for many other members. I joined the board in 2013 to give something back to an association that has had such a positive influence on me, and am now continuing this work as chairperson. I can bring even more of my ideas to the table and work closely with managing director Andreas Wellbrock.
What are your goals?
During the first few months, my primary challenge was to find out the best way of applying my expertise to WAB. My background is in projects, so working for a service provider is very different. Now my goal is to raise WAB's public profile, to introduce new ideas and to manage all the highs and lows that the sector faces.
What will your WAB strategy be over the next few years?
We want to pave the way for the switch to renewable energy sources. This is a complex area, and I think we are yet to present it in a way that captures the public's imagination. We still have a lot of work to do in terms of raising public awareness and making our goals clear. The shift in German energy policy needs a master plan – only by working together can we make clean energy possible. To achieve this goal, we are working closely with our partners, including the German Offshore Wind Energy Foundation, to produce information material and run events on current topics such as expanding the power grid, energy feed-ins, energy saving and the concept of integrated energy. We are also active in political committees and networks throughout Germany. We have the experience and expertise that decision-makers need, and they can rely on the advice that we provide.
Without expanding wind energy we will be unable to achieve a sufficient reduction in CO2 emissions.
You have touched upon the shift in German energy policy – what does WAB make of the German government's targets for its energy policy?
The proposed expansion of renewable energies is too limited. Under current plans, we will not be able to meet the climate targets set by the German government and the Paris Agreement. We are therefore calling for an increase in the proposed expansion of offshore wind power to 20 gigawatts (GW) by 2020 and 30 GW by 2030. That is 10 GW more than under current plans. This is a vital step, as our electricity consumption will increase dramatically over the next 25 years, especially with greater numbers of electric vehicles. Without expanding wind energy we will be unable to achieve a reduction in CO2 emissions.
In 2017, the Offshore Wind Energy Act (WindSeeG) and the amendment to the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) came into force. In connection with this, the funding model has been changed to one based on tenders. The first calls for tenders were put out in April. How has the sector adapted to the tender model?
The zero-cent bids* of the first round caused a sensation, of course. It totally took me by surprise, but I am all the more delighted for that. These bids are an important signal to the public that demonstrates that we can be competitive. This development must lead to a discussion of the current caps placed on the expansion of wind energy. For all the positive reports, the tender process has also caused uncertainty. The financing methods developed by banks over recent years no longer work, as subsidies have reduced liabilities or removed them altogether. Entirely new business models are needed now. Our membership includes banks, insurers and lawyers, and together we are trying to break new ground in this area. We also need to work on new technologies in order to increase our competitiveness. In recent years, the sector has focused on improving the efficiency of offshore wind farms. Now it needs to look at reducing operating costs – we believe there is enormous potential for savings here.
*Editor's note: this term refers to several first-round bids for offshore projects that do not rely on subsidies through the EEG surcharge per kilowatt hour produced (= 0 cent). The operators achieve their profits entirely through the sale of the energy they produce.
What challenges are WAB members currently facing?
The sector is becoming more and more international. Some of our members have been active in other countries for decades. Others, especially the many small and medium-sized enterprises, can gain international exposure through our sector events, such as the WINDFORCE conference. It is part of our remit to give SMEs the opportunity to network. Alongside our joint stands at trade fairs and conferences, we also run regular sector events with up to 300 participants.
As a consequence, a pan-European market for renewable energies is gradually developing. This is particularly noticeable in the offshore industry, where foreign investors are building wind farms in Germany, and German operators are active in other countries. This is the right way to go. The switch to renewable energy sources cannot be achieved in one country alone - it is a task that requires collaboration across borders.
How is WAB helping companies to meet these challenges?
We are supporting the sector all the way. In addition to providing information and networking opportunities, we are also working on specific projects, such as our new 'wind to gas' strategy for Bremen. This project aims to research the technological and commercial potential of power-to-gas applications that use surplus electricity from wind generation. WAB provides the platform – we are running a series of talks and bringing all the players together.
The north-west remains the undisputed centre of Germany's offshore industry.
The future of the Adwen plant in Bremerhaven is uncertain, yet at the same time the Bremerhaven offshore terminal is under development, and Siemens is building a new factory in Cuxhaven. These are mixed signals. How do you see the position of Germany's north-west in terms of wind energy?
The north-west remains the undisputed centre of Germany's offshore industry. Bremerhaven is a pioneer in this field and, with an excellent manufacturing base and strong research community, is an attractive place to establish a business. The construction of the Siemens factory in Cuxhaven is another positive sign for the future. Any change, such as the amendment of the Renewable Energy Sources Act, brings uncertainty with it, but we should give the process time. We will see that change also brings opportunities, and I firmly believe that we will overcome any uncertainty.
The United Kingdom is an important market for wind energy – what changes resulting from Brexit are you most worried about?
It is almost impossible at the moment to predict the impact of Brexit on our sector, just as it is for any other sector. We will have to wait until we have more specific information. At the last WINDFORCE Baltic Sea conference in Tallinn we had in-depth discussions with UK-based companies in the wind energy sector. During these discussions it became clear that a steady expansion of renewable energy is still very much needed in the UK, and that our partners there are keen on working together closely at the European level. I am hopeful, therefore, that we will find a common path.
Ms Lucke, many thanks for talking to us.
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