The head of one of the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturers has expressed his surprise at the public debate around health concerns over wind energy in Australia, saying it does not happen elsewhere.
Andreas Nauen, the managing director of REpower Systems, which has built or contracted to build around 1,000MW of wind turbines in Australia, recently completed a visit to the country and was surprised to hear that the claimed health impacts of wind energy was given such prominence.
Doesn’t this happen elsewhere in the world?
“No. A blunt no,” Nauen told RenewEconomy in an interview (The full details of which can be read here). “I am always surprised – I have been to Australia a number of times, and every time this comes up (and) I think to myself ‘hmmm, the only country in the world where this gets discussed’.
“You have in other countries very specific discussions about things like warning lights for high towers. It’s always a very solution orientated discussion, if it comes up at all, but this fundamental discussion of wind turbines causing illnesses, I don’t see it anywhere else in the world.
RenewEconomy suggested that part of the reason may be the different ownership for onshore wind farms in Europe, where community ownership is more prominent. (Only two out of Australia’s 1,000 or so wind turbines are owned by local community groups).
“If there was a serious issue with health, people would not trade that off (for ownership),” he said.
During his visit to Australia, Nauen argued forcefully for the Renewable Energy Target to be retained as a fixed goal of 41,000GWh, noting the rapid change of energy systems around the world. He said Australia needed such policies to maintain its momentum of investment.
Nauen said even conservative organisations such as the International Energy Agency were pushing for a “revolution” in the way we use and supply energy, and this was occurring in Germany, where the push to replace nuclear and invest heavily in renewables meant that fossil fuels in the future would be used “sparingly” as a back up for wind and solar energy and other renewables.
Despite obvious resistance to such ideas, Nauen said that the biggest energy companies in Europe were now coming around to that type of thinking.
“In most countries you go through a phase of resistance, but I think in most places in the world we have overcome this,” he said. “And now it is down to the fact that most large companies have their renewable divisions that drives that investment just like they do their traditional generation business.”
He said this was true for Germany’s biggest generation companies, E.ON and RWE (who incidentally have said they have no plans to build new fossil fuel generation), and was also taking hold in other countries.
However, despite the need to act on climate change, Nauen said it would ultimately be commercial realities and economics that decided energy investment.
“Giving priority to renewables is a good start, but in the long run we have to build the competitiveness of wind turbines,” he said. “So this whole debate about who comes first and who gets priority simply gets overcome by a simply commercial discussion about who generates electricity in the most efficient and competitive way.”
See full interview here, also covering future costs, turbine size and the outlook for the Australian market.