The prize was more than thirty miles off the German coast. Rising 300 feet from the surface of the North Sea was a forest of shimmering fiberglass-and-steel wind turbines. In his dreams, photographer Luca Locatelli stood atop a turbine with his camera to capture the essence of Germany’s massive push for offshore wind power.
But his dream would have to wait.
“I have to say that we have severe preconditions for everyone,” wrote an energy company executive. “The photographer needs to have all certificates … [which] include, among other training, the so called ‘survival at sea’ and HUET,” (which stands for Helicopter Underwater Escape Training).
Undaunted, Locatelli and his assistant, Sirio Magnabosco, enrolled in the grueling four-day training, which allowed them access to the offshore wind farms. Magnabosco made a video (at the top of this page) of Locatelli going through the course. The training included weathering a pool outfitted to create stormlike conditions at sea—six-foot waves, thunder and lightning, and wind and rain, all in total darkness.
“I can tell when it’s dark, when there is the wind, when there is the noise of the thunderstorm, somehow you don’t recognize very well that it’s a simulation,” Locatelli recalled. “You are just in trouble. The water is real. The waves are real. So you have to breathe, and you have to swim, otherwise you fail.”
The wind farm that Locatelli was able to photograph, courtesy of DONG Energy, was the Borkum Riffgrund 1 wind farm that was inaugurated this month. The 312-megawatt wind farm has 78 turbines producing enough power for 320,000 German households. Eighteen other wind farms have been built or are under construction in German waters of the North and Baltic Seas.
And, once Locatelli was finally allowed access to the turbines in the sea, he was finally able to make the images that he had envisioned all along.
Locatelli’s first story for National Geographic magazine on Germany’s energy transition, “Germany Could Be a Model for How We’ll Get Power in the Future,” appears in the November 2015 issue.