North Sea to become Europe’s green power plant

Nine European countries signed a joint declaration on Monday in Ostend at the second North Sea Summit to make the North Sea the “green power plant of Europe”. The nine aspire to produce some 300 gigawatts (GW) of energy by 2050 through the massive construction of offshore wind farms.

According to Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open Vld), the host of the meeting, that capacity is enough to supply green power from wind and later hydrogen to 300 million households in Europe to break free from fossil energy – mainly supplied by Russia.

The summit at the port of Ostend, attended by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron, among others, was a continuation of the one held in Esbjerg, Denmark, last year, where Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark already agreed to increase offshore wind capacity tenfold by 2050 and meet the power consumption of 150 million households.

Ambitious targets

Meanwhile, the number of participants expanded to nine countries. France, the UK, Ireland, Norway, and Luxembourg – a major player in financing wind farms – now also belong to the North Sea club. But ambition also increased towards 134 GW of wind turbines by 2030 and more than 300 GW by 2050. Together, after all, the nine have 175 000 km of coast to build wind farms.

The targets are very ambitious: while the UK already has 14 GW of offshore wind and Germany 8 GW, the capacities of Denmark, Belgium, and the Netherlands are between 2 and 3 GW, and those in France and Norway are only around 0,5.

Specifically, the nine initially want to reach agreements on how to turn paper plans into real wind farms quickly. This can be done, for instance, by better coordinating the construction of the wind farms: for example, promoting their standardization, simplifying administrative procedures, coordinating tendering, or making the financing more stable.

Agreements should also be made on safety. All those cables and pipelines on the bottom of the North Sea “could well be subject of sabotage”, De Croo said.

Don’t delay

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also attended the summit. “Now everything resolves around speed”, she said, a reference to the need not to delay energy conversion. “This treaty should give us the wind in our sails towards climate neutrality.” Europe aims to get up to 42,5% of its energy consumption from renewable energy sources by 2030.

Von der Leyen and Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre signed an agreement in Brussels before the summit to strengthen cooperation on renewable energy, climate, and environmental protection.

On the fringes of the meeting, it also became known that The Netherlands and Britain plan for a new electricity link to connect an offshore wind farm in the North Sea with the two countries. The undersea cable delivers up to 2 GW of electricity, enough to power 2 million households.

Massive investments

In a joint declaration, more than 100 companies also warned of supply chain bottlenecks in the rapid expansion of offshore wind energy in Europe. They argue Europe’s wind industry is currently not large enough to meet the political commitments and call for public financial support “to kick-start” needed investments.

Today, for example, 5 GW of offshore wind capacity is being built around the world. And Europe alone now wants 20 GW per year built in the coming years. The companies also pointed to the huge need for training and recruitment: offshore wind will require 250 000 jobs by 2030, up from 80 000 today.

The total cost also promises to be colossal. At the end of 2020, Brussels estimated investment needs at 800 billion euros as the EU targets 300 GW of offshore wind by 2050.

In turn, environmental NGOs are calling for more impact studies on marine biodiversity – in the shallow waters of the North Sea, wind turbines in large numbers cannot be installed too far from shore. But according to Pierre Tardieu of the industry federation WindEurope, only 7% to 10% of the sea basin is needed to achieve wind turbine targets.


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