European nations agree to build sea-based wind power grid

Nine European countries pledged to build more links between wind power stations in the North and Irish Seas which could help them boost output of renewable energy, as UN climate talks got underway in Copenhagen.

The text was signed on the margins of an EU energy ministers’ meeting by Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Sweden.

This very ambitious project is not just of interest to the countries bordering the North seas. It is important for the future energy mix providing the needs of the European Union, said Paul Magnette, climate minister of Belgium which initiated the scheme.

The plan, which will now be examined by experts, foresees the major part of offshore wind energy development in Europe will be focussed on the North Seas region.

"They also mean we can work with other countries in the EU to increase our renewable energy supplies", said Britain’s energy minister Lord Hunt. The countries involved aim to devise a work plan in early 2010 to coordinate offshore infrastructure development.

The initiative is part of EU plans to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 percent by 2020.

There are already some 30 offshore wind farms in Europe, off the coasts of Denmark, Germany, Britain and the Netherlands.

Wind energy producers complain that the few links between countries and power stations allow little wind-generated electricity to be piped quickly where it is needed. The EU’s executive also has called for more cross-Europe links to secure the power supply and prevent blackouts.

Energy ministers from Britain, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Ireland and Luxembourg promised to develop a new offshore power grid to link up electricity produced from sea-based wind power turbines.

The European Union is aiming to generate a fifth of all its energy from renewable sources by 2020 to reduce reliance on imported oil and gas, and to meet climate change goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Wind power will likely play the major role. The European Wind Energy Association says wind could generate up to 16 percent of all EU energy (or a third of all electricity) by 2020, if governments help fund more wind farms and power links.

Offshore wind farms use bigger and more powerful wind turbines planted in the sea bed and can generate around a third more power than land-based wind stations. They also are far more expensive to build and maintain.