IN DEPTH: Europe's wind capital

Since the Middle Ages, Hamburg’s port has brought wealth and prosperity to the northern German city, so when the financial crisis struck in 2008, reducing trade, the government of the city-state was quick to act.

The coalition of Christian Democrats and Greens resolved to diversify Hamburg’s economy away from maritime activities towards renewable energy — a move that continued when the Social Democrats took power in 2010.

Between 2009 and 2011, about 2,000 renewables jobs were created inside the city limits as German and international companies — including Siemens, Nordex and Areva — moved their headquarters or wind-power bases to Hamburg, helping it become Europe’s undisputed wind-energy capital.

By the end of 2012 (the latest year for which figures are available), 15,000 people were working in Hamburg’s renewables sector, according to German analyst Prognos. In the Greater Hamburg metropolitan area, which includes neighbouring towns such as Cuxhaven, as well as a Senvion factory, that figure rises to almost 25,000.

“There are still quite a lot of small and medium-sized companies interested in coming to Hamburg, especially from Scandinavia, but also from other markets, such as the UK, or other European countries,” says Jan Rispens, managing director of the Renewable Energy Hamburg Cluster Agency.

“[It is] the ‘white-collar’ part of companies that is concentrated here,” he adds, pointing out that the city also hosts engineering, certification and insurance companies operating in the renewables sphere.

“Hamburg, for the wind industry, is a very attractive location to be,” says Markus Tacke, chief executive of Siemens Wind, which has concentrated its global wind division in the city since 2011. “Three of the key suppliers of wind OEMs have their headquarters here.”

So why is Hamburg so attractive, and what did the local government do to lure the companies to the city?

Unlike other parts of the world, the city-state does not have the power to offer companies tax breaks or subsidies, so it had to think more creatively.

One of its first actions was to set up the Renewable Hamburg Energy Cluster — a network of renewables companies, research facilities and institutions — to stimulate dialogue and ideas, and to pool skills and knowledge. The forum’s public face, the Renewable Hamburg Energy Cluster Agency — a public-private company majority-owned by the city — also organises events and carries out studies. There are now 180 members of the cluster.

The city also set up — and still owns — the WindEnergy Hamburg fair, which it says is the world’s leading onshore and offshore wind exhibition. The 2014 show, from 23-26 September — for which Recharge will produce show dailies — will feature about 1,000 exhibitors from 30 countries, with about 40,000 visitors expected.

In addition, the administration has funded renewable-energy degree courses (both undergraduate and postgraduate) at state universities, and is backing the ongoing construction of a so-called “energy campus” at the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences. It is hoped that this technical institution — which will focus on wind energy, storage and smart grids — will develop into a “Silicon Valley of renewable energy” by attracting wind companies to the local technological expertise.

Hamburg has also been attracting and approving commercial wind projects — almost unheard of for a major conurbation — and now boasts an installed wind capacity of 57MW inside the city limits. The authorities have also supported several R&D projects and lobbied hard in the Bundesrat — the country’s upper house of parliament, where it has three of the 69 seats — to limit the damage to the sector by the reform of the Renewable Energy Act (EEG).

“It builds a cluster around the wind industry having OEMs here, building up a university infrastructure, having the positive attitude of the city,” says Tacke. “And behind that, I think there’s a good mixture where we feel quite comfortable.”

Nordex chief executive Jürgen Zeschky agrees, praising the city for its wind fair and future energy campus.

“Hamburg’s importance is increasing,” he tells Recharge. “Look at the WindEnergy Hamburg trade show — that gives Hamburg a lot more visibility to external customers and partners in the wind industry.”

Of course, companies would not have been drawn to Hamburg if it didn’t have such a superb location — on the edge of the North Sea and close to key parts of the supply chain.

“In the region from Brande [Denmark] down to Hamburg, east to [the Baltic Sea port of] Rostock, and west to Bremerhaven [on the North Sea coast], you find a large part of the offshore wind value chain,” Rispens points out.

It also doesn’t hurt that Germany is Europe’s biggest installer of onshore wind and the second-largest offshore wind market.

The UK, which is the leading offshore market, is a potential challenger to Hamburg’s European wind crown, having recently won a pledge from Siemens to build an offshore wind hub in Hull, northeast England, but it does not come close to having the same industry infrastructure and support as Hamburg.

“In the financial part of the wind sector, London is dominant,” Rispens admits, explaining that the UK capital is still the place to go for financing large offshore projects.

Now that the EEG reform has come into force — albeit with a 2.5GW annual cap on onshore wind additions and a reduced offshore target of 6.5GW by 2020 (down from 10GW) — there is long-term visibility in the sector for the first time in years.

Companies that had been anxiously waiting for the new rules can now commit to new investments in German wind — and Hamburg is likely to be the biggest beneficiary. The city’s position as the continent’s wind leader is about to be strengthened.