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Offshore wind farms will become the backbone of Europe’s power industry – DW – 16.09.2022

In recent weeks, there has been so much talk in Europe about the shortage of pipeline gas and increased purchases of liquefied gas, about the wider use of coal-fired power plants and the extension of the life of nuclear power plants, that one might get the impression: in the conditions of an acute energy crisis Germany and European Union lost interest in renewable energy sources (RES).

Why is Europe betting on offshore wind farms?

In fact, in this area, especially in the field of wind energy, significant, even landmark events have taken place in recent months. It’s just that the media and the public are now focused on the upcoming winter, and the agreements that the governments of the countries adjacent to the North and Baltic Seas have now reached relate to what will happen later, in the coming years and decades, when the process of abandoning fossil, hydrocarbon energy carriers accelerates. The scale of these decisions leaves no doubt: in Europe as early as this decade, offshore (offshore) wind farms will become the basis of the electric power industry.

Why wind farms? Because in most EU countries, especially in its northern part, wind blowing around the clock is a much more promising renewable energy source than the sun and than hydropower, the possibilities of which are very limited – unless, of course, rivers are blocked by dams and large areas are not flooded when filling reservoirs, which is unacceptable in densely populated democratic countries, and, moreover, threatens to seriously damage the ecosystem. Truth, wind turbines also harm wildlifebut scientists are looking for and finding ways to reduce it.

An offshore wind farm in the North Sea DanTysk in the German Exclusive Economic Zone
An offshore wind farm in the North Sea DanTysk in the German Exclusive Economic Zone Photo: Christian Charisius/dpa/picture alliance

Why marine? Because on the high seas, the winds are always stronger and more constant, and wind turbines are more powerful because larger blades are installed on them. Also, on dry in densely populated European countries it is so easy to find suitable areas to install a large number of wind turbines – unless, of course, they give away agricultural land for them, thereby reducing the possibilities for food production.

Especially strong winds blow in the North Sea, located between the British Isles, Scandinavia and continental Europe. It is no coincidence that windmills have been a symbol of the Netherlands since ancient times. And it is no coincidence that this relatively shallow part of the Atlantic Ocean is already leading the continent in terms of the number and size of operating wind farms, the total capacity of which is approaching 20 gigawatts (GW).

This is comparable to 20 units of nuclear power plants, because they often have a capacity of 1 GW (or 1000 MW). For comparison: the total installed capacity of all Russian nuclear power plants, according to the data on the Rosatom website, is 29.5 GW.

9 countries will turn the North Sea into a common “green power plant”

For other seas surrounding Europe, 20 GW is a huge figure, but for the North Sea, this is just the beginning. On September 12, the energy ministers of EU members Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, France and Sweden, as well as Norway, which cooperates closely with the EU in many areas, agreed and unveiled an extremely ambitious investment plan in Dublin.

He assumes that already in 2030 the capacity of wind farms in the North Sea will almost quadruple – up to 76 GW, by 2040 it will be 138 GW, and by 2050, when the EU wants to achieve climate neutrality, it should reach 260 GW.

As a result, even if this program is not fully implemented, the sea that today supplies Europe mainly with pipeline gas and oil, including the benchmark European grade Brent, will turn into a giant “green power plant”.

May 18, 2022.  The leaders of Belgium, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands, together with the head of the European Commission at the site for the installation of wind turbines
The leaders of Belgium, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands, together with the head of the European Commission at the site for the installation of wind turbinesPhoto: Philip Reynaers/BELGA/dpa/picture alliance

And joint. Until now, countries such as Denmark, Germany, Belgium or the Netherlands built wind farms on their shelf mainly for their own needs, in any case, they connected them to their power transmission networks. However, on May 18, the political leaders of these four states at a summit in Danish Esbjerg with the participation European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (Ursula von der Leyen) agreed on the collective use of future capacities.

They decided from the very beginning to connect the North Sea wind farms under construction with submarine cables to several countries at once, which should ensure the flow of electricity to where it is most needed at the moment. The initiative of the four leaders of European wind energy was supported by other coastal states, so that the meeting of 9 energy ministers held on September 12 was a direct continuation of the May summit.

At it, the concept of sharing offshore wind farms, initially connected with the help of interconnectors to the electric networks of a number of countries, was extended to the entire North Sea region (with the exception of the UK that left the European Union). At the same time, the ministers agreed to speed up the procedure for issuing building permits both by national regulators and at the EU level.

The capacity of wind farms in the Baltic will increase by 7 times by 2030

And two weeks earlier, on August 30, similar agreements were reached in Copenhagen by the political leaders of all the coastal countries of the Baltic Sea (except Russia): again Germany and Denmark, whose shores are washed by both seas, as well as Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Finland, Sweden and Estonia.

August 30, 2022.  Participants of the Energy Summit of the Baltic States in Copenhagen give a press conference
Participants of the energy summit of the Baltic region countries in Copenhagen at a press conferencePhoto: Mads Claus Rasmussen/AP/picture alliance

The Baltic Sea is still far behind the North Sea in the field of wind energy, and therefore the pace of construction of wind farms here will be higher in the coming years. By 2030, it is planned to increase the available capacities by seven times and bring them up to about 20 GW, which are already installed on the North Sea shelf. By 2050, this figure should grow to 93 GW.

In parallel with these multilateral agreements, Germany and Denmark also signed a bilateral agreement on the implementation of the Bornholm Energy Island project. It involves the joint construction of wind farms with a capacity of about 3 GW by 2030 near the Danish island of Bornholm, which will be connected to both the Danish and German power grids.

Thus, just in those two weeks when the attention of many media was riveted first to the three-day shutdown of the Nord Stream from August 31, and then to the complete cessation of the pumping of Russian gas through this pipeline in the Baltic and to the consequences of such a move for Germany14 EU countries and Norway quietly laid the vector for the development of the electric power industry in the northern part of Europe for the current decade and the next quarter of a century.

Latest news about European wind energy

And simultaneously with the preparation and adoption of these fundamental political decisions in the European wind energy at the corporate level, a specific business was developing, both offshore and onshore.

So, on July 4, on the Atlantic coast of France near Saint-Nazaire, the country’s first offshore wind farm began to produce electricity. It consists of 80 wind turbines, which will be gradually put into operation before the end of this year. On the same day, German energy company RWE and Greek Hellenic Petroleum Windparks announced their intention to jointly develop, build and operate offshore wind farms off the Greek Mediterranean coast.

On August 8, Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins announced at the founding meeting of the company Latvijas vēja parki (Latvian Wind Farms) that it had been decided to invest approximately 1 billion euros in wind energy and that this would be one of the largest investments in the history of the country.

On August 26, Zeewolde, the largest onshore wind farm in the Netherlands, consisting of 83 wind turbines with a total capacity of 320 MW, officially went into operation near Amsterdam. Its distinguishing feature is that it is owned by local farmers. Approximately 200 of them took out loans and invested about half a billion euros in order to have additional regular income from the supply of green electricity to 300,000 households.

Infographics:

On Sept. 14, Switzerland’s Energy Infrastructure Partners (EIP) bought a 49% stake in the 350 MW German Wikinger wind farm off the coast of the Baltic island of Rügen from Spanish energy company Iberdrola for around €700 million. Two years ago, the same investor from Switzerland bought a 49% stake in the neighboring Arkona wind farm from RWE.

And why did the Spaniards suddenly decide to give away part of the wind farm they developed and still manages in the Baltic? Doubt about the prospects of wind energy? Instead, Iberdrola is now selling a wide variety of assets to fund its multi-billion dollar wind and solar investment program in the US, the UK and its home country of Spain. After all, there is not only a lot of sun, but also wind, both at sea and inland. I remember that a few centuries ago Don Quixote was strongly impressed by the Spanish windmills.

See also:

Who in Germany opposes wind farms

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