Germany wants to pepper its northern seas with offshore wind turbines as part of its ambitious energy revolution. But strict laws, technology problems and multiple delays are turning the massive enterprise into an expensive fiasco. Investors and the public are losing patience.
In his 1957 work “Book of Imaginary Beings,” Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges describes Zaratan, an ocean turtle that was so large that she served as an artificial island. Forests grew on her shell.
The managers of the British offshore firm Seajacks have developed such an affinity for the monster that they named their latest creation after the mythical being. Their Zaratan looks like a giant barge. It has a huge crane and four hydraulic legs, each of them 85 meters (280 feet) long. The legs allow it to lift itself out of the water like an insect.
The vehicle is an “installation vessel,” a tool of the offshore wind-power industry that does only one thing: It installs offshore wind turbines that that are sometimes taller than 150 meters.
On a recent Saturday, the ship was waiting at the wharf in the northern German port town of Cuxhaven to take four “monopiles,” each weighing 750 metric tons (1.64 million pounds), on board. Monopiles are 70-meter steel masts that serve as foundations for the offshore wind turbines.
The vessel, operated by the firm WindMW, was set to drive the first of these monumental poles 40 meters into the seabed at a site 23 kilometers (14 miles) north of the North Sea island of Helgoland, heralding the beginning of a sea change in German power generation.
The hammers on the installation vessel will generate noise at levels of 160 decibels. Zaratan will hammer 80 monopiles into the sand in the next few months. After that, the Zaratan and its sister ship, the Leviathan, will install the giant rotors on the turbines.
Since harbor porpoises are sensitive to noise while raising their young in the summer, all of this has to happen in the fall and winter, under overcast skies and in heavy seas.
It will also cost a lot of money: at least €1.2 billion ($1.5 billion).