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Geography: The language of Europe - Windenergie in Deutschland (Wind energy in Germany)

Geography: The language of Europe

Key questions

  • What are the key terms associated with sustainable energy and renewable sources?
  • How can atlases be used to locate and plot features?
  • An example of a renewable energy project within an EU country

Key concepts

  • Place
  • Space
  • Physical and human processes
  • Environmental interaction and sustainable development
  • Cultural understanding and diversity

What are the key terms associated with sustainable energy and renewable sources?

The most commonly used definition of sustainable development is ‘development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'. This comes from the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED). Further explanations and definitions can be found on the Global Development Research Center website.

In terms of energy, sustainability refers to our use of sustainable energy sources, i.e. renewable sources rather than non-renewable fossil fuels, which have finite reserves (so will run out) and also have environmental concerns attached to their use.

Sustainable energy sources include:

  • Solar power: The use of the sun's energy to generate electricity captured using solar panels
  • Wind power: The use of moving air (wind) to drive wind turbines. Usually, these are grouped into wind farms and they may be on-shore or off-shore. On-shore wind farms are those located in-land, usually in higher, rural areas. More recently, attention has turned towards off-shore wind farms which are built off the coast, out to sea. There is often much opposition to wind farms; their use is controversial for a number of reasons. The advantages and disadvantages of both on- and off- shore wind farms are discussed below
  • Geothermal energy: This is where heat from deep within the earth is used to heat water and generate steam to drive turbines and create electricity. Seventy per cent of Iceland's energy requirements are generated in this way, due to the harnessing of the natural volcanic geothermal heat of the island
  • Wave and tidal energy: At the coast, waves and the force of moving water as the tides change can drive turbines and generate electricity
  • Biomass: As long as it is used sustainably, for example not so fast that it cannot regenerate and replace itself, wood and other biomass can be used for fuel
  • HEP: Hydro-electric power is generated when water which is held back is released through turbines, for example from the reservoir through a dam

How can atlases be used to locate and plot features?

Atlases are commonly used in geography, although how to use them for more than just the basic location of a country or city can be tricky for many students. In this activity, students are first asked to locate and name the main countries on their outline map, as well as a couple of island chains and towns on the coast. This is fairly straight forward. However, task two is more complicated.

Like OS maps, atlases have grid lines superimposed on the maps - but in this case they are called lines of longitude (these run top-bottom from the main line of longitude; the Greenwich Meridian or Prime Meridian), and lines of latitude, (which run around the globe from the main line of latitude; the equator). The longitude of a place is a measure of how far east or west of the Greenwich, or Prime Meridian Line a place is, and is measured in degrees from 00 at the meridian itself. The latitude of a place is a measure of how far north or south of the equator a place is, and is measured in degrees from 00 at the equator itself.

The space between each line of latitude or longitude is divided into 60 - these represent 60 minutes. Therefore one degree of either longitude or latitude on an atlas map equals 60 minutes. These minutes are not marked on the atlas maps - only the main lines of latitude and longitude (sometimes at two degree intervals rather than one, depending on the scale of the map, so be careful). Therefore, as with six-figure grid references on OS maps, the sub-dividing lines need to be ‘imagined' in order to work out the exact location of a place from its longitude and latitude coordinates.

The best way to learn how to read map co-ordinates is to practice. Students are given the four points of reference for the corners of the wind farm site. These are very close together, so they need only be as accurate as they can with the scale of map they are provided with. For checking purposes, the location of the wind farm is shown on the map. Incidentally, other pictures on this website are interesting and may be shown to the class if desired.

An example of a renewable energy project within an EU country

The Alpha Ventus project off the coast of northern Germany in the North Sea is a test-project for off-shore wind farm technology. No other wind farm at such comparable depths and at such a distance from the coast has yet been built in the world, so it is hoped that this will provide valuable knowledge and understanding for future renewable energy projects of its kind.

There are a planned 12 turbines, six of which will be REpower 5Ms - one of the largest models of wind turbine in the world. REpower is a German wind turbine company which developed the 5M model in 2005, especially for offshore operation. Seventeen turbines of this type have been successfully installed elsewhere, both onshore and offshore, including two turbines in the Scottish North Sea at a water depth of 44 metres, and six for the first Belgian offshore wind farm, Thornton Bank. More information about REpower can be found on the Wikipedia website.

The fact-file and other information on the Deutsche Energie-Agentur website informs us that these 12 turbines will be constructed 45km off the coast of Germany, at a water depth of 30m. The installation of the 60km of cabling has already begun, to connect the wind farm with its terminus at Emden. Installation of the turbines themselves began in mid June 2009, and is due to be completed by the end of the year. Total capacity when the site is complete will be 60MW. The Alpha Ventus website has further information and details about the project. Students are given both of these website urls to help them to complete task three of the main activity.

There are many arguments for and against wind farms, both on-shore and off-shore. Amongst the main arguments are:


  • No waste, CO2 emissions or other pollution produced
  • A renewable resource to meet increasing energy demands
  • Once a wind turbine is built, its running costs are very low
  • The land around wind turbines can be used for farming
  • Wind farms can become tourist attractions
  • Building off-shore can solve some of the issues with locating on-shore close to where people live and on farmland/in scenic areas


  • Expensive initially to construct, especially off-shore turbines due to the added complications of the higher-spec required to withstand more severe elements, added costs of building off-shore, and then maintaining them
  • No wind, no power
  • Some people think that wind turbines spoil the look of an area - the sites are often in remote and attractive areas
  • Wind farms create a low-level noise
  • Wind farms can interfere with television reception and radar
  • The MOD have concerns that off-shore wind farms will interfere with their coastal radar equipment
  • There are environmental concerns over the interference of wind turbines with bird migrations and marine life/sea-bed disturbances in the case of off-shore farms

The AWEA (American Wind Energy Association) fight back on their website, with more counter-arguments for off-shore wind farms.




Starter one - Geography

Key terms snap

Sustainable energy is top of the EU's sustainability agenda (see the Europa website for more details).

But what is sustainable energy?

Cut out the key terms, definitions and relevant images in the key terms snap document and use them in a group of three to play a game of three-way snap. This will introduce you to some of the key terms related to sustainable energy.

Now you have played the game of snap, can you write a definition of sustainable energy?

Starter two - MFL

Windenergie in Deutschland - Wind energy in Germany

This activity will introduce you to some of the key terms associated with today's lesson - in German.

Download the crack the code worksheet which gives you thirteen words in code. Each letter of the alphabet is represented by a symbol (except for the vowels which are given). Crack the code to uncover the words, then look up the meaning of the German words in a dictionary.



The Alpha-Ventus project

In this activity, you will find out about the Alpha-Ventus wind farm project in Germany.

As you know from the starter activity, wind energy is a form of renewable energy.

You have four separate tasks to complete on the worksheet:

Key locations

You will need an atlas to label a range of countries and places on an outline map of Europe.

Locating the Alpha-Ventus project

Using coordinates (lines of latitude and longitude), you will plot the exact location of the Alpha-Ventus project on your map. Again, you will need to use an atlas for this task.

True or false?

In this task, you will carry out some internet research to find out whether ten statements about the Alpha-Ventus project are true or false.

Completing your map

Once you have worked out which of the statements are true, use them to annotate your map with further information about the project.

By the end of the activity, you should have produced an annotated map showing the location of the Alpha-Ventus wind farm site and some information about the project.



Map display

Your teacher will project a large (blank) version of the map you have just completed onto the IWB at the front of the classroom.

See how much you can remember from the lesson (without looking at your map if you can) by contributing labels and annotations to the map as a class, until it is complete.

To finish off the lesson, discuss the following questions with the rest of the class:

  • What are the advantages of offshore and onshore wind farms?
  • What are the disadvantages of offshore and onshore wind farms?
  • Which types of renewable energy do you think are most suited to the UK climate?
  • What can we do as individuals to reduce our energy consumption?

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