“We are on the verge of a new age of electricity”, he announced. “We can make it the age of clean electricity”. Indeed, a sense of the urgent need to implement a profound change in Europe’s power supply permeated the session. Many of the speakers stressed the importance of the upcoming UN climate change meeting in Copenhagen in December, and finding a far-sighted international agreement. Conference participants were confident that offshore wind can and will contribute significantly to meeting any carbon emission cutting target set.
“Offshore wind can deliver a critical contribution to a more climate-friendly power system”, stressed EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs. “The whole world must be ready to contribute to a successful outcome at Copenhagen”.
But the Commissioner and other speakers recognised that offshore offers more than just green credentials. The large-scale development of the sector was seen as crucial for many other reasons.
“Offshore wind can play a substantial role in tackling the key challenges of our time: climate change, security of energy supply and future economic growth”, said Maud Olofsson, Swedish Deputy Prime Minister.
According to Commissioner Piebalgs, each Megawatt of installed wind energy capacity creates 7.5 jobs on average, while David Kidney, UK Under-Secretary of State for Energy, said that in Britain, up to half a million jobs will be created in the renewables sector by 2020.
Getting more concrete, the session cut to a live video link with Lillgrund offshore wind farm, where a row of turbines spinning in the wind, blowing at 10 metres per second, showed the power and potential of Europe´s largest domestic energy resource.
One of the main challenges to accessing and harnessing this power is the lack of a pan-European offshore electricity grid. “At the moment there is no common electricity market nor are there enough passages for transporting power across national borders”, stressed Eamon Ryan, Irish Energy Minister.
Arthouros Zervos, President of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), set out a solution when he launched EWEA’s offshore grid development plan. The plan would allow large amounts of offshore wind power to be transported across Europe.
Overall, the sense of the urgency of rapidly tackling barriers such as the grid was matched by a sense of excitement. Offshore wind is a quickly maturing sector and its role in tackling the climate, energy and economic crises is clear. Perhaps the Irish Minister put it most succinctly when he said, “We have a saying in Ireland… you shouldn’t waste a crisis”. It is the moment to show what offshore wind energy can do.
Frauke Thies, who works for Greenpeace on EU energy policy issues, spoke to EWEA today in Stockholm at the Offshore Wind 2009 conference. She was one of two co-chairs at a conference session on wind power and environmental issues.
Question: Tell me about your position at Greenpeace and what sort of work you focus on?
Answer: I’m the EU policy advisor for Greenpeace in Brussels on renewable energy issues which includes on the one hand following closely the European policy initiatives on energy and also challenging decision makers to take sufficiently bold steps to support renewable energy. The second part of my work consists of working with our national offices to coordinate our campaigning on the national level towards European decisions.
Q: Do you think the European public accepts a rapid expansion of offshore wind power?
A: I think the awareness of the serious environmental problems and the climate crisis is leading to more and more people supporting clean energy sources and wind energy is one of the cleanest choices available. So in that sense, I would hope people would support the rapid expansion of offshore wind. It’s certainly one of the least disturbing sources.
Q: Since onshore wind is now such a proven and successful sector, what has to happen for offshore wind so that it can also develop into a mature sector?
A: First of all we need appropriate support policies. Another thing is the grid connections which at this time are a major bottleneck so we need some serious action there. And then of course we also need further research and development measures to optimise the technology.
Q: How important is a dedicated transnational grid to allowing European offshore wind to reach its tremendous potential?
A:It is very important if we want to realize the large offshore potential in the smartest way.
Q: What still needs to be done to achieve a post-Kyoto agreement in Copenhagen in December?
A: A lot. At the moment the process is way too slow. What needs to happen first is that the industrialized countries such as the European Union commit to serious support of developing countries to be able to reduce their own emissions and also adapt to climate change. Because without Europe and the industrialized countries making the first step and saying these are the targets to reduce emissions and this is the money to support others to do a similar thing, it’s not going to happen.
Q: What role does wind power play in helping to reduce some of the worst aspects of global warming caused by 150 years of burning fossil fuels?
A: Wind power has a major role to play in this context because we need to bring down emissions fast. Global emissions have to peak by 2015 and that means in industrialized countries such as the EU, emissions have to go down rapidly, almost immediately. And wind power is one of the technologies that is available today and it can provide clean power fast.
Q: Do you think there will be a new agreement in Copenhagen?
A.I do hope so because we absolutely need it. We have no more time to waste to take serious climate action around the world.
Q: If a new agreement is not reached, what do nations and regions like Europe still have to do to halt the rapid escalation of climate change?
A: They have to prove it is possible and take climate action at home and stick to ambitious targets. In fact, the EU has to increase its targets because 20% is not enough. On top of that, we need a further process internationally because even if Copenhagen does not come to a conclusion, we will need a conclusion at some point.
Q: What is your view of the world in 2050? Will humankind have finally beaten back the carbon monster when the population is expected to reach nine billion?
A.Humankind can certainly do that because we have the possibilities and we have the clean energy resources. Efficiency and renewable energy can provide most of our energy by 2050.