First ‘sea plug’ is start of European offshore grid
Now that the first power plug at sea has been installed, 40 km off the coast of Ostend, electricity network operator Elia’s CEO, Chris Peeters, is thinking about building a power grid at sea. “If we connect Europe’s wind farms, we will be able to harvest wind energy all the time.” The realization of the first sea plug, which is officially called the Modular Offshore Grid (MOG), involves an investment of 400 million euros. The platform can bring 1-gigawatt ashore, which is comparable to a nuclear power plant.
Drilling platform for wind energy
The Belgian power socket at sea, a steel construction that towers 41 meters above the North Sea and looks a bit like a drilling platform, but for wind energy, bundles the electricity from four wind farms. The electricity is then brought ashore with three submarine cables over a distance of 40 kilometers.
The Modular Offshore Grid must be completed by September, so that the wind farms under construction, Mermaid, Seastar and Northwester 2, can be plugged into the sea plug. The Rentel offshore wind farm, which is now operational, did not wait for the MOG to arrive and laid its cable to Zeebrugge, which Elia will take over in the autumn and connect to the plug.
“By bundling the cables from parks, we can prevent a cable spaghetti from forming on the bottom of the North Sea,” says Peeters. “Fewer cables have to be laid, and when a cable is being maintained, this no longer means that the associated wind farm has to be shut down.”
Second socket by 2025
In the meantime, Elia is already planning to build MOG II, which would cost 1 billion euros. If the second wind farm zone is put into operation at the French border, this means doubling the capacity at sea, and a further 2.000-megawatt of wind energy will have to be brought ashore.
For this to happen, it is first necessary to strengthen the electricity grid in the interior of the country. Elia plans to invest half a billion euros in the construction of the Ventilus high-voltage line through West Flanders and another half a billion euros to complete the loop through Hainaut. In the best-case scenario, these works will be completed by 2025.
Continuous stable electricity production
But Elia sees it even bigger. It wants to build a real electricity grid at sea, where the plugs are interconnected and can also be connected to the Dutch, English and French grids. Elia was already engaged in exploratory talks about connecting the MOG to the Dutch Borssele wind farm complex. Discussions are also on-going with the UK.
“If we succeed in connecting European wind farms, offshore wind energy can provide almost baseload, which means that there is a continuous stable electricity production. As soon as there is no wind on the English coast, the wind can blow in the Baltic Sea or the other way around.”
Peeters refers to the Kriegers Flak wind farm in the Baltic Sea, which will be connected to both the Danish and German grids by 50Hertz, Elia’s German subsidiary. “This world-first allows electricity to be brought offshore where demand is the greatest,” says Peeters. “By 2025-2035, we will also have to look at the development of such a grid at sea. The offshore plugs can play a crucial role in this.”
Minister of North Sea, Philippe De Backer (Open VLD), who visited MOG yesterday together with Minister of Energy and Sustainable Development, Marie-Christine Marghem (MR), hopes that wind farms will soon be built without subsidies.
The next federal government will invite to tender for the assignment of the second wind farm zone. To make it as easy as possible for investors, De Backer has set up a task force to carry out preliminary soil research and to complete permits. “In this way, the Netherlands could also win wind farms without subsidies,” he says.