The world’s largest wind power factories are being built a few kilometres behind the German border

The Vestas plant in Brandenburg is closed, and Nordex in Rostock is also closing down for good. But satellite images show: While the German wind power industry is languishing, the sector in Denmark is growing gigantically.

“Economy from above” is a collaboration between WirtschaftsWoche and LiveEO. This is a translation of the original article written in German by “Konrad Fischerr“. Access the original article here.

The employees at the Nordex plant in Rostock fought for their jobs until the very end. In April, they organised a large demonstration to avert the threatened closure. It was no use: at the end of June 2022 the last rotor blade left the factory in the harbour area, 530 employees will now move to a transfer company if they have not already started looking for other jobs. They met the same fate as the 500 employees at the Vestas factory in Lauchhammer in Lusatia at the end of February. There, too, the factory was closed, and there, too, overcapacities on the market and competition from the Far East were said to be to blame for the misery.

For new jobs in the same business, however, the employees would not have to travel so far – at least if they speak a little Danish. While the wind power industry in Germany has experienced a decline in recent years that is fatally reminiscent of developments in the solar industry, the opposite story is playing out directly north of the country’s border: The Danish wind power industry is booming, as exclusive satellite images from our sources.

Almost every superlative that the industry reported last year took place in Denmark. The largest rotor blades, the most powerful generators, the largest foundations: All made in Denmark. Almost half of all offshore energy installed in Europe, according to a recent calculation by a Danish industry association, was transacted via the port of Esbjerg on the west coast of Jutland.

  • Port of Esbjerg, Denmark
  • Port of Esbjerg, Denmark
  • Port of Esbjerg, Denmark
  • Port of Esbjerg, Denmark
  • Port of Esbjerg, Denmark

Images: LiveEO/Google Earth

The satellite images show how impressive the development actually is. At the centre of the Danish wind industry is the port of Esbjerg, whose location is ideally suited to reach the offshore installations in the North Sea. Most of the components for the parks on Danish ground as well as for those in British waters are delivered from here. The construction of the German wind farm Kaskasi – the only German offshore farm to be connected to the grid this year – is also being handled from here.

The satellite images show how strongly wind power has shaped the harbour in the meantime: Only 15 years ago, only a single tower of a wind turbine can be seen, otherwise smaller factory buildings and tanks dominate the picture – next to a lot of greenery. Then, over the years, the area of the harbour is expanded by more than a third, and the new areas as well as all green spaces are now occupied by rotor blades and other wind power components.

Not yet visible, but long in the planning, is the next stage of development of the Esbjerg wind power cluster. By 2026, the city will fill in another L-shaped area in the south of the harbour, which will expand the harbour area by another 500,000 square metres, exclusively reserved for the expansion of the wind energy industry.

But even beyond the port of Esbjerg, the wind energy industry in Denmark has long been an important branch of the economy. After all, 2.3 percent of all private employees in the country are employed here. And thus dependent on a very special growth logic. The wind industry is more cyclical than any other. With each new generation of rotors, the turbines get bigger. And with them, all their components become larger, heavier and more complicated to transport. The selection process among the factories is correspondingly sharp: a production facility that may have been perfectly suitable for 80-metre-high rotors is no longer usable for 120-metre-high turbines, for example because the next motorway slip road can no longer be extended and the ground must not be burdened with further weights.

At least for the time being, however, most Danish locations are apparently well equipped for the gigantomania of the industry: For all components of the 15-megawatt class, which will be the measure of all things in the construction of offshore parks in the coming years, there are production sites in the country. For example, there is the port of Aalborg, on the east coast of Jutland.

  • Bladt Industries A/S, Aalborg, Denmark
  • Bladt Industries A/S, Aalborg, Denmark
  • Bladt Industries A/S, Aalborg, Denmark
  • Bladt Industries A/S, Aalborg, Denmark
  • Bladt Industries A/S, Aalborg, Denmark

Images: LiveEO/Google Earth, LiveEO/TripleSat

On the left edge of the picture, you can see the factory buildings of Bladt, the global pioneer in the construction of so-called monopiles: those constructions made of concrete and steel that are used to anchor wind turbines in the seabed on the high seas. In 2018, the company began to convert its site so that the components manufactured here can also support wind turbines of the 15-megawatt class, and the first models are currently being delivered. Over the years, you can clearly see how more and more pylons are being stored on the outdoor site, and the dimensions of each individual pylon are also growing steadily.

For this, Bladt has apparently taken over space from its southern neighbour: Siemens Gamesa, which has maintained large production facilities in Denmark since buying its competitor Bonus Energy in 2004. In Aalborg, as can easily be seen in the pictures, rotor blades are manufactured. Over time, you can see how each of the blades so accurately stored there gradually grows in size. The latest satellite photos also show that there is still plenty of room for even the most modern class of products. In April, the company announced that it would begin production of the latest generation of rotor blades, each 115 metres long. Siemens Gamesa also operates the world’s largest indoor test centre for rotor blades here, which is also open to other manufacturers.

The big Siemens competitor Vestas has secured two entire bays in Denmark in order to be prepared for the age of offshore giants. The rotor blades are manufactured in Nakskov in the southwest of the island of Lolland, and the hubs in Lindø north of Odense on the island of Funen. These are the components where the rotor blades are connected to the tower and where the wind movement is converted into electrical energy.

  • Vestas A/S, Lindø Industrial Park, Funen, Denmark.
  • Vestas A/S, Lindø Industrial Park, Funen, Denmark.
  • Vestas A/S, Lindø Industrial Park, Funen, Denmark.
  • Vestas A/S, Lindø Industrial Park, Funen, Denmark.
  • Vestas A/S, Lindø Industrial Park, Funen, Denmark.

Images: LiveEO/Google Earth, LiveEO/Pleiades

Seen from space, the components look a bit like angular white insect bodies. The models shown in the pictures are probably still those of the previous generation (10 megawatts); only in March did Vestas announce that it would also build the hubs of the 15-megawatt generation here, which are to be delivered from 2024. The company is currently producing a first prototype of the turbines, which will soon be tested at the Danish national test centre in northern Jutland.

  • Vestas A/S, Nakskov Harbour, Lolland, Denmark
  • Vestas A/S, Nakskov Harbour, Lolland, Denmark
  • Vestas A/S, Nakskov Harbour, Lolland, Denmark
  • Vestas A/S, Nakskov Harbour, Lolland, Denmark
  • Vestas A/S, Nakskov Harbour, Lolland, Denmark

Images: LiveEO/Google Earth, LiveEO/TripleSat, LiveEO/Pleiades

In addition to rotors, hubs and monopiles, the manufacturers are only missing one component for the construction of the offshore turbines: the tower. Here, too, the two leading manufacturers are to be found in Denmark. Just like Valmont, which manufactures its turbines a good 20 kilometres north of Flensburg in Rødekro, its competitor Welcon has also settled inland. In the small town of Give, about 50 kilometres east of the central harbour of Esbjerg.

  • Welcon A/S, Give, Denmark
  • Welcon A/S, Give, Denmark
  • Welcon A/S, Give, Denmark
  • Welcon A/S, Give, Denmark
  • Welcon A/S, Give, Denmark
  • Welcon A/S, Give, Denmark

Images: LiveEO/Google Earth, LiveEO/TripleSat

Here, too, the components have grown along with the dimensions of the wind turbines. How long this will still be feasible at this location far from the sea, however, is debatable. It is true that the satellite images show that a motorway was built a few years ago that runs directly past the site. But that does not change the distance to the sea.

Until a few years ago, Siemens Gamesa manufactured its rotor blades for the onshore turbines in the neighbouring town of Brande. But this is no longer profitable, as it was at the German Vestas site in Lauchhammer. So the factory was switched to the very heavy but less large hubs – which were previously manufactured in Cuxhaven. The tower builder Valmont has already secured a plot of land in the port of Esbjerg so that it can load its next-generation components directly onto ships. So structural change is also taking place in Danish wind power locations, albeit with one difference to what is happening in Germany: for most of the factories and jobs that are disappearing, new, larger locations are being created elsewhere in the country.