In the engine room of renewable energies

When asked by a layperson what the “German Federation of Wind and other Decentralised Energies (FGW - Fördergesellschaft Windenergie und andere Dezentrale Energien”) is concerned with, an association he chairs, Prof. Dr Horst Schulte resorts to a metaphor: “The FGW is the engine room of renewable energies,” says the engineering scientist. In fact, the non-profit organisation, which has over 100 members in Germany, defines standards, adopts directives and awards certificates that pave the way for implementing innovative practices and technologies in the field of renewable energies. As the FGW itself states on its website: “We support and promote the establishment and smooth operation of a renewable energy supply”. Prof. Dr Horst Schulte has been a member since 2006, and in June 2021 he took over the chair of the honorary executive board.

A universal interest in reliable standards

Whether research institution or measuring institute, wind turbine manufacturer or supplier, planning or engineering office, certification company, energy supply company or electricity provider – they are all members of the FGW. The spectrum ranges from the German branch of the technology company ABB and the Kommunal-Wasserversorgung Saar GmbH to the smallest of expert consultancies. Some, like the certification companies, compete in the market. “But everyone knows that maintaining a smooth energy supply requires technical standards, and everyone has an interest in those standards being reliable,” says Prof. Dr. Schulte.  Some seek that reliability to ensure planning security for their expensive investments, others because they need to get their products certified, still others because they operate a network or feed decentralised energy into an electricity grid, which has to function without a glitch.

It all started with wind in the 1980s

Comparable standards can be found in the health sector, where medicines first have to be approved, or in the world of finance, where loan-granting directives exist. Incidentally, the name FGW dates back to the association’s foundation in the early 1980s, when wind was yet to make its début as a business model and only a handful of enthusiasts were interested in the topic. “In Berlin particularly, a well-connected scene of engineers and scientists existed, such as the engineering collective Wuseltronik, the wind turbine manufacturer Südwind and the institute of Prof. Dr Robert Gasch, who clearly understood their commitment as a political statement,” recalls Prof. Dr Schulte. Wind energy only became an independent market when the so-called Electricity Feed-in Act, the forerunner of today’s Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG), came into force in 1990. Wind was later joined by photovoltaics, which is why the FGW was expanded to include decentralised energies, becoming the “German Federation of Wind and other Decentralised Energies”. It has now established itself as an institutional platform for effectively dovetailing the technical, economic and political aspects of wind energy use in Germany and beyond.

Activities performed across eight technical committees

How should one imagine the work of the association in practice? The Berlin office, with its director, accounts department and administrative office, academic staff and specialist advisers, forms the heart of the FGW. The ten-member team coordinates and moderates the committees' activities, particularly the eight technical committees in which the association’s Technical Directives are created or refined. One technical committee is concerned with noise, another with wind potential, while “electromagnetic compatibility” and “maintenance” are other topics receiving in-depth study. Because a range of different stakeholders are represented in the committees, discussions are technical but not “technical jargon”, says Prof. Dr Schulte, who is accustomed to completely different debates in his capacity as a scientist in his scientific community. In the case of controversy, the office moderates, because views on how detailed regulations should be inevitably differ at times.

"This is how research is brought into society"

Directives are adopted using a written circulation procedure. These then become binding regulatory statutes for laws usually passed at federal level. The directives are available digitally to interested parties for a fee that helps to recoup the costs of the association’s office; the association’s second source of income is its membership fees. A selection of Technical Directives can be found in the online shop on the FGW website, including: “Determination of Sound Emission Levels”, “Operation and Maintenance of Renewable Energy Power Plants”, “Determination of Wind Potential and Energy Yields” as well as performance curves and reference certificates. No electricity provider can connect a plant to the grid and no company can launch a product on the market without having passed through the proverbial eye of the needle of the FGW – at least indirectly. “This is where the course is set for innovations, this is how research is brought into society,” says Prof. Dr Schulte.

Commitment with professional added value

This enormous practical relevance is one of the reasons why the enterprising scientist, himself a proven expert in control technology, is involved in the FGW on an honorary basis. Prof. Dr Schulte appreciates the opportunity to learn about current challenges from different perspectives. It allows him to expand his thinking and work output, which has a positive repercussions for his research. As an example, he cites the POSYTYF project, which is all about rethinking a decentralised energy supply. Working in the association helps Schulte not only to “think big” about the issue, but also to bring it to the municipal level, where electricity actually reaches the people. For Prof. Dr Schulte, a decentralised energy supply is also matter of democracy. He believes that it is simply not enough to replace nuclear power and coal with large wind farms and mega-photovoltaic plants if society continues to depend on a few monopolists.

Voluntary work two hours a week

Even though, as chairperson of the board, he is not involved in the operational business of the FGW and does not sit on any technical committees, his voluntary activities take up around two hours a week. Prof. Dr Schulte advises and supports office staff on content-related matters, mediates in conflicts and recruits new members. “Directives tailored specifically to the needs of renewable energy plants will become more important as renewables gain system relevance, so reliability must become more predictable,” he comments.

Still in its infancy: the “Airborne Wind Interest Group”

In addition, innovations to help to increase the share of renewable energies in terms of overall energy supply. A good example is the FGW’s most recent technical committee: the “Airborne Wind Interest Group”. As yet, only prototypes of these wind turbines exist, parts of which fly in the air but are simultaneously anchored to the ground by one or more tethers. “Currently, there are just five to six companies in this niche market worldwide,” says Prof. Dr. Schulte. But he’s convinced that this will change.

Solutions for the general public

Standardisation processes are already necessary as, from a technical standpoint, airborne wind turbines are classified somewhere between a power plant and an aircraft and can also travel at different altitudes. A working group of manufacturers, project planners and universities is discussing best practice examples and details at the FGW. They will publish their knowledge in the form of a Technical Directive. Prof. Dr Schulte is already looking forward to the approval of the first such turbine. Its authorisation will allow the FGW to prove once more that it has made engineering knowledge and solutions available to the general public in a safe, certifiable and reproducible way.

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