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Germany opens massive ocean wind park

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivers a speech at the opening of the Arkona wind park in Sassnitz, northern Germany, on April 16.

Sassnitz, Germany

GERMAN Chancellor Angela Merkel was joined by French and Norwegian ministers on Tuesday to officially open a massive wind farm in the Baltic Sea, a key project for her country's "energy transition".

Arkona's 60 turbines tower out of the Baltic between the German island of Ruegen and the Swedish shoreline to the north.

Erected in just three months last year, they are already supplying 385 megawatts of electricity - enough for around 400,000 family homes.

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French energy provider Engie has signed a contract to buy electricity for four years from operator OWP Arkona, a joint venture between Germany's Eon and Norway's Equinor.

Electricity will be routed through a French-built substation whose 150km of cables link up the wind generators.

Engineers affectionately dubbed the hardware "the multi-socket adaptor" after the familiar household gadget.

Tuesday's political inauguration with Mrs Merkel, French energy transition minister Francois de Rugy and his Norwegian counterpart Kjell Borge Freiberg is a signal of cooperation just weeks before European Parliament elections.

Germany has long been seen as a pioneer in the switch to renewable energies, but Mrs Merkel's 2011 decision to exit nuclear generation after the Fukushima disaster knocked the country back.

Rather than emissions-free fission plugging the gaps left by variable output from wind and sun, Berlin has had to fall back on intensely polluting brown coal and other fossil sources.

Today, renewables account for 38 percent of Germany's energy mix, and are slated to hit 65 per cent by 2030.

"In 2025, we will be well above the 40 to 45 per cent target for renewable energy in Germany," Mrs Merkel said in her weekly video podcast Saturday.

But the federal government has missed its targets in the past, giving up last year a goal to reduce greenhouse emissions 40 per cent compared with 1990 levels by 2020.

On land, Germany's much-lauded "Energiewende" (energy transition) policy is struggling, with subsidies for wind turbines on the way out and the cost of transmitting electricity to consumers high.

One kilowatt-hour (kWh) costs 30 euro cents (S$0.46) or twice as much as in neighbouring France, still well supplied with electricity from nuclear plants.

While land-based turbines may be running out of puff, Germany has been building them at sea for 10 years - despite initial scepticism.

Observers at first warned of high costs, and upsets like storms or sunken windmills plagued the early attempts.

But costs have been squeezed and techniques improved in the meantime, with 20 per cent of Germany's wind energy now coming from the sea.

North Sea and Baltic wind parks boast more than 1,300 windmills with a capacity of around 6.4 gigawatts. AFP