Welcoming the wind, waiting for the sun

Welcoming the wind, waiting for the sun

About the project

The project 'Welcoming the wind, waiting for the sun' has been developed by a group of 20 graduate students at the Technische Universität Berlin. The participants are pursuing Masters and Diploma degrees in Environmental Planning and Renewable Energy Systems. The student project has been supervised by the Environmental Assessment and Planning Research Group at the TU Berlin which is chaired by Prof. Dr. Johann Köppel.

First we want to thank our project advisors - who enthusiastically accompanied us, even through the difficult phases of the project - Gesa Geißler and Prof. Johann Köppel. Thank you for your help, advice and insights into current research practice! Several experts also contributed to the success of this project and we are sincerely thankful for their time and effort. Last but not least, we are grateful to Christiane Bohn & Christopher Lant (2009) for having created the original image „Welcoming the wind“ as well as The Doors and their 1968 album for our subsequent play on words „Waiting for the sun“ !

Executive summary


Independence from fossil fuels and climate change mitigation are only two of the reasons why a rapid increase of renewable energy (RE) has become a pressing issue in Germany and the United States. In light of the recent disaster in Japan, the debate on nuclear power phase-out and how quickly renewable energy could compensate for electricity generation has still accelerated.

The flip side of the coin is that renewable energy facilities consume land and space in marine areas and might also cause environmental impacts. This dilemma is referred to as „green against green“ by Todd Woddy ( Thus, taking environmental, social and economic issues into consideration is one of the biggest challenges when siting wind and solar farms, as well in Germany and the United States. The environmental impact assessment tool and other instruments of the planning processes play a key role in avoiding conflicts and in successful siting.

In the case of Germany, the deployment of offshore wind energy has obviously not been constrained by the environmental planning and permitting processes. More than 20 approvals have been granted within a short period of time (e.g.: Gode Wind 2). Nevertheless, only two facilities have so far been constructed (Bard Offshore 1, alpha ventus) which is mainly caused by financial issues. Furthermore, the first marine spatial planning procedures for Germany´s North and Baltic Sea did not sufficiently restrict the siting of wind farms to designated zoning areas. In contrast, the terrestrial wind farm development in Germany has strongly been regulated by respective zoning on a regional and local level. As far as ground-mounted solar facilities are concerned, decisive planning strategies have already been implemented on a federal level, thus creating a corridor which focuses the deployment on sites including brown field sites, industrial and ex-military zones.

However, we cannot expect any rapid progress while some of the current gridlocks are left untackled. Notwithstanding more than 10 years of research on environmental issues concerning wind, photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar power, we still fail to comprehensively address the bigger picture: While RE technologies do have an impact on the environment, the impact seems by no means as serious as previously expected (Tsoutsos 2005). Only a few of the expected impacts have been proven so far, while others have not yet been investigated (Lüdeke & Köppel 2010). There is still a lack of experience and research when constructing, operating and decommissioning solar and on- and offshore wind energy facilities (Leitner 2009). Hence, we need more concise approaches, for example, through addressing „rules of thumb“ for thresholds of significant impacts on biodiversity.

From an economic point of view, the potential of incentives to support spatial planning of RE has not yet been sufficiently deployed. In the German case, Ohl & Eichhorn (2010) found a mismatch between the feed-in tariffs provided and the designation of suitable wind energy sites on the regional planning level. In the US, as opposed to a federally harmonised system, economic incentives are to a high degree provided on state level as shown in the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE)

Both countries face major challenges in terms of the transmission system. In the case of Germany, the grid currently presents a crucial bottleneck for the integration of renewably generated electricity (SRU 2011 and High investment costs and associated environmental issues( well as pending federal planning and concerns of public acceptance create this delay. The situation in the United States differs insofar as the gap between the overall potential for renewable energy generation and the available transmission infrastructure seems substantial for the time being (

In terms of acceptance by society, the public in the United States and Germany consider renewable energy in general positively. However, citizens begin to think differently when it comes to the feasibility and the perception of renewable energy in more detail.

At the same time, due to the implications of the EU Directive on the Promotion of Renewable Energy (2009/28/EC, Germany has to identify proper compliance methods and establish the effectiveness of its planning and permitting system in for renewable energy, namely wind and solar energy.

Thus, we would like to address and discuss the following questions:

These main research questions lead to further questions such as: What roles do the environmental planning and review processes in the United States and Germany play in terms of supporting or hindering wind and solar energy deployment? How can we achieve compliance with other environmental, economic and land use regulations? Which main barriers can be identified in the sustainable development of wind and solar energies from a policy point of view?

As the development of renewables does not occur without environmental impacts and societal discourse, we focus on the role of environmental planning and impact assessment. We refrain from addressing all renewable energy sectors and have thus limited our study to solar and wind. Furthermore, this project has excluded integrated PV installations (such as rooftop PV) as they do not consume land.

As a final result of our project, we would like to:

  • Point out the most hindering barriers, which impede the dynamic planning of renewables,
  • Discuss possible opportunities to overcome the identified barriers,
  • Supply a of positive planning approaches to ease the planning process from a policy related, environmental, economic and societal point of view.

Some basic results are summarised below. Please click on the links for more information


Our basic hypothesis was: „Today`s planning approaches do not sufficiently deploy the potential towards a dynamic and environmentally sound development of renewable energy.“ Through comprehensive literature analysis and expert interviews, we assessed the validity of our hypothesis. We have attempted to identify interlinkages between restraints of planning, environmental, economical, social and technical aspects, both in Germany and the United States, for wind and solar energy. We consider the intelligent interplay of the project and strategic level in planning and permitting policies as a decisive trigger for improvement.

By reviewing relevant laws, regulations, policy documents and academic literature as well as analysis of current planning, review and approval processes, we identified main barriers as well as good practice approaches for wind and solar energy siting and deployment in Germany and the United States. Additionally, informal interviews were carried out with experts from the renewable energy planning sector, NGOs namely the German Wind Energy Association and the Nature and Biodiversity Conervation Union (NABU) as well as the solar park Brandis.

Based on comparative analyses, literature research and interviews we identified barriers and possible solutions. With innovative approaches to group work such as role plays and moderated debates, we worked in a highly diverse environment. The results are presented in this Wiki as an upcoming instrument for iterative learning and working (Augar et al. 2006). Finally, we supplemented our work with an excursion to a solar facility in Germany (currently the 12th largest in the world).


We identified some crucial barriers related to a sound siting of RE facilities. For example, some documents highlight that the designated priority and suitability areas in Germany hardly correspond with the solar and wind energy objectives in electricity generation until 2020 (e.g. BBR 2006). Others identify limitations for repowering of wind turbines due to clearances to settlements and protected areas as well as to height restrictions (Grunwald et al. 2005, Grotz et al. 2010, Hoffmann 2011, oral). In some German states „height and clearance restrictions even lead to non-usable priority and suitability areas“ (Grunwald et al. 2005: 34). A report by Batten and Manlove (2008) from the Centre for American Progress states that achieving Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) goals requires transmission line modernization, 'yet how to proceed is a contentious and difficult policy challenge'. There is also a lack of information on a strategic level (national, regional) for suitable (or not) sites for solar and wind parks: taking into account the energy yield, avoidance of impacts on sensitive species, infrastructural requirements and economic and social outcomes for particular sites.

The designation of suitability and priority areas is a main issue. In Germany, potential sites are sometimes not usable as the developer must face restrictive clearances and height restrictions on the local level. A crucial set-back that constrains the development of new onshore wind farms, are strong restrictions placed on repowering. Buffer zones for sensitive ecosystems and protected areas further reduce available areas. Buffer zones, for instance, do not represent the right choice at nay rate, without considering case-by-case assessments. When the designation of suitable and priority areas does not consider requirements of the RE infrastructure and vice versa, the aspect of grid extension becomes a relevant problem. Moreover, the potential of economical instruments for the siting of facilities has not yet been explored enough.

Another main issue is that permitting procedures both in Germany and the US, are often time and cost intensive and tend to hinder a dynamic progress in RE development. In the US case, the manifold governance structure results in individual, hardly harmonized RE policies on state level. Sometimes inconsistent and uncoordinated permitting procedures require several different permits which might be combined as one procedure. The inconsistency of permitting procedures across municipalities, states, and the federal government is especially relevant to the grid extension as this is a main barrier for siting renewable energy infrastructure (Batten & Manlove 2008).

A crucial problem for environmental permit procedures also arises when the term “significant” impacts would require thresholds for mortality rates or affected population sizes, for example. Additionally, environmental problems occur when dealing with cumulative effects of similar facilities nearby or in the same region (e.g. the North Sea). Finally, there is the problem of the case-by-case approach as opposed to overall strategic planning. Last but not least, the lack of public involvement and societal acceptance can make projects costly or even trigger its rejection. Reasons for public opposition sometimes evolve simply from limited or missing information concerning the impacts. Further reasons for public scorn for RE projects are; lack of transparency, bad timing (too late in the decision-making process) and inappropriate stakeholder and public involement.

Opportunities for improvement

(Please find a short summary in our List of positive planning approaches)

In Germany, a small country compared to the US, the demand on RE sites is expected to exceed the amount of currently available capacity. Hence it is recommended to designate further areas and reassess the exclusion of available sites by more specified criteria. Meeting the needs of environmental compatibility on the one hand and the demand for more sites on the other hand, is like walking a tightrope. Considering this, we recommend a combined approach of strategic planning and case-by-case assessment. The former aspect can presumably be met, for example, by a sophisticated and publicly backed-up federal grid plan. Besides designating new areas for RE development, the demand could be met also to some degree by repowering. A precondition for sufficient repowering is that municipalities do not turn a blind eye on the further deployment of RE.

The lack of available sites seems less an issue in the US as it is in Germany. Yet, many best practice examples especially for strategic environmental planning for RE can be found here. Ambitious programmatic environmental impact statements (PEIS) on solar and wind trigger siting for RE. These solar and wind PEIS could be even extended besides its current focus on Western US states, providing valuable siting information on wind and solar energy development from an environmental, economic, social, technological and political perspective. Such a comprehensive strategic environmental assessment is also recommended for RE development in Germany. The current RPS approach, could also be expanded and used as a tool to combine renewable energy targets with financial incentives. Strategic environmental assessments could provide analysis on both, environmental aspects and efficiency of energy production (due to siting). Proposals for different classes of suitability could be connected to bonuses whether feed-in tariffs, tax credits or others.

One of the main problems in some of the US states is the highly complex permitting procedure. Hence it is recommended to shift towards a so called 'one stop shopping approach' where the permitting procedure is organized by a single agency acting as facilitator or even mediator. This approach was found to be successful in some states in the USA, such as in Washington State (Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council EFSEC), Massachusetts and Florida. A good practice example provides the Energy Overlay Zones in Klickitat County, thus reducing the procedural permitting effort effectively. Another recommendation could be the coupling of solar and wind (or other renewable) energies. Wachholz (2011, oral) stated that combining wind and solar facilities could mitigate environmental impacts. This would require the identification of areas for concentrated renewable energy production. As wind turbines shed shade on solar panels and also require proper grounding areas, some respective limitations are also obvious (Hamm 2011, oral).

Further conclusions

A basic recommendation adressing many challenges in Germany would also be an intensified cooperation among European countries, and for the US among the federal states. Thus, cooperation is especially important for Germany with its limited land resources, the latter establishing one of the main bottlenecks for the development of renewable energy. Overall, there has been also a strong focus on coupling economic incentives with planning approaches. To meet the demand for development areas without compromising environmental compatibility as well as social and economic aspects, a strategic top-down approach needs to be met halfway by the bottom-up approach.

A nation-wide basic siting strategy could display also an overview spatial analysis to identify suitable areas for wind and/or solar development. It might even pre-identify further 'development zones' providing options to developers of RE projects as well as the public. Such a strategy would also be subject to (US: Programmatic) Strategic Environmental Assessments (US: Statements) to qualify the sustainability of the approach. Regional and local planning of renewable energies is as important as the federal level. An amended strategy in Brandenburg might provide a new benchmark, where areas protected for their landscape value and forests are cautiously opened up for more wind energy development, depending less on overall mandatory but on a case-by-case study of the areas (Ministerium für Umwelt, Gesundheit und Verbraucherschuz des Landes Brandenburg 2011). It still remains to be seen, if the ambitious new Brandenburg regulations on siting wind farms will prove to be a groundbreaking but still sound approach. If so, it could serve as a model for other German states.

Surprisingly, we observed even a lack of interdisciplinary skilled personnel for „positive planning“ approaches; also respective guidance documents seem still missing. As a students project group, we conclude that a combination of planning instruments (such as PEIS or GIS Layering of maps), economic incentives, stronger policies, advanced guidelines and good practice compendiums as well as flexible case-by-case approaches need to be adopted for the dynamic development of RE. Finally, we hope to contribute to the discussion on how to accelerate the deployment of renewable energies - both in the recent aftermath of the Fukushima disaster and for the years to come.


  • Augar, Raitman, Wanlei (2006): Developing wikis to foster web-based learning communities. An iterative approach. International journal of web based communities. 2(3). P.302-317.
  • Batten K., Manlove K. (2008): Identifying Hurdles to Renewable Electricity Transmission. Centre for American Progress. Online [11]. (Last accessed: 02.02.2011)
  • BBR - Bundesamt für Bauwesen und Raumordnung (Eds.) (2006): Flächenbedarfe und kulturlandschaftliche Auswirkungen regenerativer Energien am Beispiel der Region Uckermark-Barnim. Forschungsprogramm Aufbau Ost.
  • Bohn, C., Lant, C. (2009): Welcoming the wind? Determinants of Wind Power Deployment Among U.S. States. The Professional Geographer. 61(1). P.87-100.
  • Golder Associates (2010): Environmental Group: Please add reference
  • Grotz, C., Jensen, B., Schroth, G. (2010): Repowering von Windenergieanlagen. Effizienz, Klimaschutz, regionale Wertschöpfung. Bundesverband WindEnergie e.V. (BWE e.V.) (Hrsg.). müllerDitzen, Bremerhaven.
  • Grundwald, A., Ramsel, K., Twele, J. (2005): Einschränkungen für das Repowering unter Berücksichtigung der genehmungsrechtlichen Rahmenbedingungen. Berlin.
  • Hamm, J. (2011): Entrepeneur at the solar park Brandis. Leipzig/Germany. Interview (10.01.2011).
  • Hoffmann, F. (2011): Planungsbüro Planthing Berlin, Planning specialist for wind energy onshore. Interview (21.01.2011).
  • Leitner, P. (2009): The Promise and Peril of Solar Power. As solar facilities spread, desert wildlife faces risks. Wildlife Professional.
  • Lüdeke, J., Köppel, J. (2010): Welcoming the wind! Wo stehen Umweltprüfung und Naturschutz in der Folge der deutschen Offshore-Windkraft-Strategie? UVP-Report. 24(3). P.109-117.
  • Ministerium für Umwelt, Gesundheit und Verbraucherschuz des Landes Brandenburg (2011): Beachtung naturschutzfachlicher Belange bei der Ausweisung von Windeignungsgebieten und bei der Genehmigung von Windenergieanlagen. Erlass des Ministeriums für Umwelt, Gesundheit und Verbraucherschutz vom 01. Januar 2011. Online: (Last accessed: 11.03.2011)
  • Ohl, C., Eichhorn, M. (2010): The mismatch between regional spatial planning for wind power development in Germany and national eligibility criteria for feed-in tariffs — A case study in West Saxony. Land Use policy JLUP. P.798.
  • Tsoutsos, T., Frantzeskaki, N., Gekas, V. (2005): Environmental impacts from the solar energy technologies. Energy Policy 33 (2005). P.289–296.
  • Wachholz, C. (2011): Expert on renewable energy at the Naturschutzbund. Berlin/Germany. Interview (27.01.2011).


  • BMU & US DoE (2010): Development of both energy types in the US and Germany. Own illustration with information from BMU & US DoE.
  • Geißler, G. (2010): Wind turbines in Texas. Own picture.
  • Kiewitt, W. (2008): PV installation. Own picture.

Relevant Material

News articles

Public Resistance Grows to New 'Monster' Power Masts, Spiegel Online International 01/05/2011, accessed: 01/07/2011

Renewable Energy Now Neck and Neck with Nuclear in the US, Inhabitat 01/06/11, accessed: 01/07/2011

Schwarzenegger praises Sunrise Powerlink transmission line groundbreaking, LA Times 12/09/2010, accessed: 01/07/2011

Sunrise Powerlink transmission line breaks ground in San Diego County, LA Times 12/09/2010, accessed: 01/07/2011

NextEra to replace, shut some turbines to protect birds, boost efficiency, LA Times 12/06/2010, accessed: 01/07/2011

Los Angeles Utility Moves Ahead With Plans for City's Largest Solar PV Array, The Solar Home & Business Journal 11/04/2010, accessed: 01/07/2011

Dept. of Energy Hosting Free Wind Power Webinars Starting Tomorrow, Inhabitat, accessed: 01/27/2011


welcoming_the_wind_waiting_for_the_sun.txt · Zuletzt geändert: 2012/12/25 13:32 von Anita Wagner