Europe is betting big on offshore wind energy generation to meet the European Union’s (EU) revised 2030 target for renewables accounting for 45 per cent of energy sources from the previous 40 per cent. The new target is supported by the Euro 210 billion REPowerEU Plan, which has ramped up the total renewable energy generation capacity target to 1,236 GW by 2030, compared to the 1,067 GW by 2030 targeted under Fit-for-55.
The Russia-Ukraine conflict has accentuated the need for strengthening the EU’s energy security by phasing out the need for Russian gas and accelerating the decarbonisation of the energy sector. While the European Commission’s (EC) offshore wind strategy, published in 2020, proposed a target of at least 60 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030 (and 300 GW by 2050), the North Sea and Baltic Sea countries recently announced much higher targets of adding 76.3 GW and 19.6 GW by 2030 respectively. In order to ramp up offshore wind capacity faster, the North Sea and Baltic Sea European countries have initiated joint offshore energy projects as well as development of energy islands. Energy islands are expected to play a significant role in Europe’s future energy system. They will centralise the transmission of electricity generated by offshore wind farms surrounding these islands. The plan is to establish connections between some of these islands, which will further help improve energy flow between the countries in the region.
On the technology front, transmission system operators (TSOs) are now considering new higher capacity high voltage direct current (HVDC) systems for future offshore wind projects, particularly those that are coming up farther in the sea. The EC recently adopted the Trans-European Networks for Energy (TEN-E) Regulations 2022 to align with the emerging requirements as well as to better support the modernisation of Europe’s cross-border energy infrastructure and the EU Green Deal objective of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
This article presents the details of the new offshore wind energy targets as well as the transmission initiatives taken by some of the Baltic and North Sea European countries to integrate offshore wind generation into the onshore gird…
Revised offshore wind targets
According to the Marienborg declaration of August 30, 2022, eight Baltic Sea countries – Poland (5.9 GW), Germany (3.8 GW), Denmark (6.3 GW), Lithuania (1.4 GW), Estonia (1 GW), Sweden (0.7 GW), Latvia (0.4 GW) and Finland (0.1 GW) – have set a combined offshore wind target in the Baltic Sea region of at least 19.6 GW by 2030, which is seven times the current capacity. The declaration also recognises the potential for offshore wind in the Balitc Sea basin of up to 93 GW. The countries have agreed to hasten permission processes, explore joint cross-border renewable energy projects and identify infrastructure needs to enable integration of renewables.
In September 2022, the eight member countries of the North Seas Energy Cooperation (NSEC) – Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland, Belgium, France, Norway and Luxembourg – issued a joint statement to accelerate the delivery of regional offshore wind generation. Together, these countries have set ambitious new aggregate targets of reaching at least 260 GW of offshore wind by 2050, with intermediate targets of at least 76.3 GW by 2030 and 193 GW by 2040. The joint statement builds on the Esbjerg declaration by Germany, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands at the North Sea Summit held in May 2022. This declaration set a joint target for the countries to deliver at least 65 GW of OSW power by 2030 and to increase capacity to at least 150 GW by 2050.
TEN-E Regulations, offshore wind development and hybrid interconnectors
The development of offshore grids will take place through a combination of submarine transmission infrastructure, radial connections and multipurpose solutions. The EC-adopted TEN-E Regulations 2022 focuses on linking energy infrastructure across five identified priority offshore corridors covering the Baltic Sea, North Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea. The regulation requires the member countries, the TSOs and the EC to collaborate and develop the first sea basin (SB)-related offshore network development plans by January 24, 2024. In line with the TEN-E Regulations, ENTSO-E and the EC recently released a guidance document to support its member countries in delivering the input information needed by the ENTSO-E for the infrastructure planning task for offshore network development.
A large amount of funding is required for transmission infrastructure associated with offshore renewable energy. It is estimated that an annual average investment of EUR 50.5 billion is needed in the transmission and distribution network to meet the 2030 EU targets. In this context, the latest regulations allow funding under the Connecting Europe Facility programme (which has a budget of EUR 5.84 billion for the energy sector during the 2021-27 period) to projects of common interest (PCIs) as well as projects of mutual interest (PMIs) (connecting the EU with third countries) that fall within the identified priority corridors. Further, these PCIs and PMIs are to be accorded the status of the highest national significance by member countries so they can benefit from simplified permitting processes and accelerated project implementation.
The NSEC is the facilitating agency for the North Sea Offshore Grids (NSOG) which is a priority offshore corridor for the EC. The NSOG agreement is expected to be signed soon; this will enable the ENTSO-E to prepare a strategic offshore network development plan until 2050 for the NSOG maritime area. It will further facilitate large-scale implementation of hybrid offshore renewable energy projects and cross-border cooperation in offshore grid development in the region. To facilitate the required accelerated permissions for offshore renewable energy and infrastructure projects, the NSEC countries will support the intention of the permitting package within the RePowerEU Plan. They have also agreed to explore options for better integration of spatial planning and regional strategies within a 2050 scenario study. The NESC countries and the EC have agreed to promote closer coordination of offshore grid planning and onshore grid connection of offshore wind farms. The countries plan to work on a common vision within the NSEC of establishing the next of several major hybrid projects in the North Sea.
Despite having only 67 km of coastline, Belgium has been successful in developing its offshore wind sector due to early designation of exclusive zones for offshore wind. As part of the NESC joint statement, Belgium has agreed to a non-binding target of 6 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030 and 8 GW by 2040. A key project being undertaken to accelerate offshore wind energy development is the development of a multifunctional artificial energy island in the North Sea, which is being built by Belgium’s TSO Elia with a proposed capacity of 3.5 GW. To be located approximately 45 km off the Belgian coast, the proposed energy island is an innovative project that will combine both HVDC and high voltage alternating current (HVAC). The island’s high voltage infrastructure will bundle the wind farm export cables from Belgium’s new wind production zone in the North Sea, the Princess Elisabeth zone, while also serving as a hub for future interconnectors with the UK (Nautilus) and Denmark (Triton link). The construction of the island is due to start in 2024 and expected to be completed in mid-2026.
Elia and the UK’s National Grid Ventures (NGV), a division of National Grid plc, have proposed the Nautilus link to interconnect the Belgian and UK power grids. The project would include underground cabling works and onshore infrastructure, located in East Suffolk. In November 2021, Elia and its Danish counterpart Energinet signed a new cooperation agreement for the Triton link, which could become the world’s first subsea connection between two artificial energy islands in the northern and southern parts of the North Sea.
Denmark is the pioneer in the offshore wind sector and has a lot of potential to further expand its offshore wind capacity. In mid-2022, the country increased its 2030 offshore wind target by 4 GW to 12.9 GW. The long-term target for 2050 is to ramp up offshore wind capacity to 35 GW, which is almost 15 times the current installed offshore wind capacity of 2.3 GW. Denmark plans to develop two hybrid energy islands: a 3 GW energy island at Bornholm in the Baltic Sea by 2030 and an artificial island in the North Sea (3 GW by 2030, later to be extended to 10 GW). The Danish Energy Agency recently announced that the tender for the construction of the North Sea Energy Island will be launched in spring 2023.
Earlier in August 2022, the Danish government announced that it will enhance the offshore wind capacity at the Bornholm Energy Island by 1 GW, taking it to 3 GW, and the power will further be transferred to the German grid. Due to the 1 GW expansion, the offshore wind turbines will be installed between 15 km and 45 km from the Bornholm coast. Germany and Denmark have already signed an agreement for the laying of a 470-km-long subsea cable to the German coast for transmission of offshore wind energy to the German electricity grid.
The two Danish islands will have 6 GW of new offshore wind farms by 2030. In November 2021, besides the agreement with Elia for the Triton link, Energinet entered into a separate agreement with German TSO 50Hertz Transmission GmbH to develop cross-border interconnectors for its North Sea energy island – the Bornholm Energy Island project. Energinet is also part of the North Sea Wind Power Hub along with its consortium partners German-Dutch TSO TenneT and Dutch gas network operator Gasunie. The consortium intends to build an energy island together on the Dogger Bank in the North Sea. The proposed energy island could become operational in the early 2030s.
France, which aims to achieve carbon neutrality in 2050, recently enhanced its offshore wind energy targets to 18 GW of installed capacity by 2035 and 40 GW by 2050. Achieving these ambitious targets requires a major increase in the scale and pace of offshore wind and infrastructure development. Particularly, to reach the 2035 target, it will have to double the current portfolio by awarding about 10 GW of additional capacity before 2030. Further, it will have to fast-track offshore wind projects, hastening the overall timeline by two years. Further, by 2050, the country will develop a significant share of its capacity (close to 70 per cent) using floating wind technology, which is still at nascent stages of development. The government is formulating a legislation to rationalise the legal framework for offshore wind projects to accelerate their development.
Reseau de Transport d’Electricite (RTE), which is responsible for the implementation and operation of the offshore transmission infrastructure in France covering three European sea basins – the North Sea, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea – plans to develop at least 11 offshore wind transmission projects at an investment of EUR 7 billion to EUR 8 billion to connect 9.5 GW of offshore wind capacity. This includes 1.5 GW of floating wind. In the medium term, by 2025, RTE will have 3 GW of offshore transmission capacity connecting 10 wind farms in operation. The TSO is making steady progress on its ongoing offshore transmission projects. It successfully installed the two links (2×33 km offshore) for France’s first commercial-scale offshore wind project, the 480 MW Saint Nazaire offshore wind farm. The first export cable was installed in April 2022 and the second cable in September 2022. It plans to commission offshore grids for two more ongoing offshore wind projects – the 500 MW Fécamp (2×18 km offshore) and the 450 MW Calvados or Courseulles-sur-Mer (2×16 km offshore) – in 2023 and 2024 respectively.
Germany recently announced its plans to increase the country’s 2035 offshore wind target to 50 GW from 40 GW previously and further to 70 GW by 2045. It has retained its 2030 target at 30 GW. To achieve the revised targets, Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action has signed an agreement with the coastal states of Hamburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein, Bremen and North Rhine-Westphalia, as well as TSOs TenneT, 50Hertz Transmission, and Amprion.
The National Development Plan or Netzentwicklungsplans 2021-35, approved by Germany’s Federal Network Agency, Bundesnetzagentur, earlier in 2022, confirms nine offshore wind connections with the latest 2 GW, ±525 HVDC technology. These wind connections will offer more than twice the transmission capacity of the 900 MW, ±320 kV HVDC systems that have been common in Germany to date. As per the plan, these offshore ±525 HVDC systems will be commissioned before 2035 and developed by the three TSOs – five by TenneT, three by Amprion and one by 50Hertz. Four more such systems proposed by TenneT for the period beyond 2035 have been confirmed by BNetzA with reservations.
By 2030, offshore transmission capacity is expected to grow by 14,180 MW and then by another 10 GW thereafter. Overall, Germany has planned to develop close to 22 offshore transmission projects in the coming years, with many projects at various stages of tendering. For instance, TenneT, for its upcoming offshore grid connection systems under its 2 GW programme involving the new ±525 HVDC technology, invited tenders for onshore and offshore converter stations in June 2022 and for HVDC cables in September 2022.
For 50Hertz, the commissioning of the Kriegers Flak CGS in the Baltic Sea (in association with Energinet) is a step towards the establishment of an integrated offshore electricity grid through hybrid projects. The project transports offshore wind power and provides transmission capacity for cross-border electricity trading between Germany and Denmark in a combined technical facility.
The Dutch government recently announced its goal of achieving 50 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2040 and 70 GW by 2050. The government is working on its post-2030 vision with a focus on energy islands that can connect offshore wind located further from the shore and transport both electricity and hydrogen to the mainland. It is already working on plans to deliver up to 21 GW by 2031, which represents about three-quarters of its electricity consumption at the moment. In June 2022, the government announced an additional 10.7 GW offshore wind capacity to be spread across three new areas – Nederwiek, Lagelander and Doordewind – and two previously designated areas – the northern part of IJmuiden Ver and the southern part of Hollandse Kust West.
As in Germany, TenneT’s approach for offshore wind farm connection beyond 2026 is to implement the 2 GW HVDC platforms. Until then, it will use the standard 700 MW platforms with 220 kV AC export cables. HVDC cables will be used for the 4 GW IJmuiden Ver offshore wind projects, which are expected to be tendered in two equal phases in 2023 and 2025 respectively. Tenders for the newly identified areas will be issued subsequently. TenneT has collaborated with the UK’s NGV for the WindConnector or EuroLink MPI, an underground and subsea cable project connecting the UK and the Netherlands to Dutch offshore wind installations via an offshore converter platform. The project is expected to be completed by 2030.
Norway has set an ambitious offshore wind target of 30 GW by 2040, which is close to the country’s total installed capacity of 38 GW today. Its enhanced offshore wind ambitions imply that the country will build around 1,500 offshore wind turbines over the next 20 years, up from the two that are in operation today. The first developments are expected with the tenders of the 1.5 GW Utsira Nord floating wind project and the 1.5 GW Sørlige Nordsjø II or Southern North Sea II offshore wind project in 2023. Further, Norway plans to carry out the next round of licence-granting for offshore wind in new areas in 2025. The government is in the process of amending its Offshore Energy Act to streamline licence processing as well as make changes to the legal framework for awarding offshore wind areas.
In Norway, the grid access and connection responsibilities for offshore wind projects lie with the wind farm developer. This entity must simultaneously apply for a grid connection licence and a licence for offshore wind farm construction. The developer has to prepare a detailed route plan in consultation with the area operator/concessionaire as well as Statnett.
Poland is among the European countries with the most promising offshore wind prospects in the Baltic Sea region. The country’s Offshore Wind Act, 2021 provides for a two-tier system for granting funding support to offshore wind farm developers. Under the first phase, advanced projects aggregating 5.9 GW, which have been awarded contracts for difference by the Energy Regulatory Office, will be commissioned by 2030. For the second phase, under which support will be granted through competitive auctions between 2025 and 2028, 11 new sites have been made available, which will help the country take its offshore wind installed capacity to 11 GW by 2040.
The state-owned TSO Polskie Sieci Elektroenergetyczne S.A. (PSE) holds the monopoly over the country’s transmission segment. Investments in transmission networks and installations used to offtake power from an offshore wind farm remain the responsibilities of the farm owner. After the development, the connection can be sold to the TSO. Such investments will be considered “transmission network strategic investments”, which means that for their implementation, in addition to other permits, an investment location decision issued by the governor of the province will be required. The PSE has planned an investment of over PLN 14 billion for transmission network development up to 2030 under the scenario of dynamic development of offshore wind farms.
The UK has the world’s largest offshore wind pipeline with the ambition of 50 GW by 2030. Over the last couple of years, the UK has been diligently working on redesigning its future transmission network infrastructure to significantly step up OSW integration. It has decided to shift from the radial approach followed so far to a more integrated approach. According to the National Grid Electricity System Operator’s (NGESO) Offshore Coordination Project Report, released in December 2020, the integrated approach will reduce the number of onshore landing points for offshore wind to 30 from 105 in the radial approach, reduce onshore and offshore cable length to 6,735 km from 11,585 km, and the number of HVDC substations to 20.
Earlier, in July 2022, the NGESO released its “Pathway to 2030” Holistic Network Design as part of the government’s Offshore Transmission Network Review efforts to find appropriate solutions in the medium term. The HND, which sets out a single, integrated design to support the transmission of large-scale offshore wind generation to load centres across Great Britain, marks the first step towards more centralised strategic network planning. It will entail an investment of GBP 54 billion to facilitate the connection of about 23 GW of offshore wind by 2030.
The UK and the EU recognise that collaboration and coordination via hybrid assets will be critical to realise the full potential of the North Sea for consumers. NGV has two MPIs under development – EuroLink MPI and Nautilus. Recently, the National Grid commenced public consultation for two green electricity infrastructure projects – EuroLink MPI and Sea Link, a subsea electricity cable connecting Suffolk and Kent, being developed by the UK’s TSO National Grid Electricity Transmission.
The way forward
Offshore wind deployment is taking centre stage in Europe’s energy strategy as the continent moves towards ensuring energy security and reducing reliance on fossil fuels. Hybrid projects and energy islands are gaining prominence as they will facilitate offshore wind farm projects that can generate massive volumes of clean energy. This will also support the EU’s decarbonisation efforts in other sectors, particularly through the production and storage of green hydrogen. For hybrid projects to fructify smoothly, a reliable joint growth path needs to be laid, joint cross-border projects need to be expedited and a common technical language for AC/DC would need to be agreed upon. The availability of more EU funds for such projects reduces risks for investors. Going forward, greater cooperation and coordination among the North Sea and Baltic Sea countries will drive clean energy deployment in Europe. n