Offshore Energy: it’s time for the EU to lead by example in renewables

Europe has the renewable energy sources to lead the world – but first it must have the infrastructure to support its rollout, says Niels Fuglsang.
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By Niels Fuglsang

Niels Fuglsang (DK, S&D) is Parliament’s rapporteur on the Revision of the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED)

19 Aug 2021

Europe’s seas hold major resources of unharvested renewable energy, from a major potential for wind power, to wave energy and floating solar generation. We need to realise these major resources and produce renewable power on a previously unenvisaged scale. The potential is huge, from the Black Sea in the east to the Mediterranean in the south and the Baltic in the North.

Taking this step into will be challenging, from both a technological and political perspective. Numerous windfarms - floating wind turbines - will have to be developed and massive amounts of renewable power will have to be distributed to European consumers.

Member States need to work together to plan and put in place the power lines that can secure the efficient uptake of these resources. And they need to do it at a previously unforeseen speed. 

“It is therefore crucial that the offshore energy market is fit and ready to be the motor in ramping up the deployment of offshore energy”

This goal is achievable, but we will need to be visionary. Creating ‘energy islands’ far out on the ocean is the Danish Government’s response to this challenge.

The energy island will serve as an offshore power plant and as a hub for the various offshore energy technologies, gathering and distributing green electricity to consumers in Europe.

The great thing about the energy island concept is that it is scalable, meaning that further offshore production can be attached over time and new power lines connected. This creates the vision and flexibility that we will need to reach the climate goals set out in the EU Climate Law. 

The European Commission presented its proposal for an offshore energy strategy in November 2020, with a target of at least 60 GW offshore energy in 2030 and 340 GW in 2050. This will be a major increase on the 12 GW offshore wind that is currently deployed.

The targets are ambitious and widely recognised. However, I believe that we could be even more ambitious in the ramping up of offshore wind power generation by 2030.

Reaching 340 GW by 2050 means that we should already have taken major steps by 2030. It is therefore crucial that the offshore energy market is fit and ready to become the motor for ramping up the deployment of offshore energy.

This will require the sharing of gains and effective price signals fairly. With the offshore strategy, the EU is developing a common framework for the buildout of offshore energy and the tools to get there.

“Member States need to get together to plan and put in place the power lines that can secure the efficient uptake of these resources”

However, I believe that the European Parliament and the Members States should also be able to follow whether we are on track with our targets. Therefore, the Commission should set up a simple monitoring mechanism and report to Parliament and national governments every second year whether we are on track with meeting the relevant targets.

Drive along just about any highway in Europe and you will see high-voltage power lines following the path of the road. Just as European roads are interlinked, so a complex electricity grid of overground and underground power lines binds Europe together.

Equally as important as deploying wind turbines in Europe’s seas is the infrastructure that we need to carry the green energy to the end users. In fact, getting the electricity infrastructure ready both onshore and offshore, to facilitate the green transition should be a main priority.

Unfortunately, we have not seen all Member States prioritising power lines across borders. This is despite the fact that these will be crucial for creating the flexible flow of power that will benefit all citizens with cheap and green energy.  

Linking the offshore production of renewable energy with consumption in Europe will be essential. We should already now be planning the energy ports that will take up the offshore energy and distribute it to the rest of Europe. This will also require Members States to live up to their commitment to deliver on the EU’s interconnection target of 15 percent of their energy production.

Offshore wind is already a major resource and has proven to be commercially viable. We can take our adventure a step further with energy islands and a massive buildout of offshore energy production, which will be meet with Member States’ differing demands. Therefore, as part of the strategy, we need to further support research, development and the scaling up and commercialisation of offshore energy.

The synergies between hydrogen and offshore renewable energy also must be explored further. Renewable energy holds considerable potential for decarbonising heavy transport, ship and aviation traffic. With energy islands, the prospect of combining them with hydrogen production becomes even more viable. 

If we take this opportunity, Europe has a clear prospect of being the leader in offshore energy, providing both cheap green energy for Europe’s households and creating the next chapter in an industrial adventure. 

Read the most recent articles written by Niels Fuglsang - Niels Fuglsang on how energy efficiency fuels a more secure world