Wind energy currently makes up 15% of Europe’s energy mix. The majority of this is onshore wind farm plants. Offshore wind turbines is just 2% at the moment. But it’s growing rapidly thanks to decreasing costs and improving technology. So offshore wind power will be a major player in the future. But collaboration with the shipping sector will be key to delivering this.
Offshore wind energy is already an important part of the European shipping industry. It uses boats such as jack-up ships and roll-on roll-off vessels to install and operate wind farms and cables, and move workers around. Over 100 vessels are currently used in Europe for the installation of offshore wind turbines and laying cables, and 300 more are used for maintenance and transport of staff.
But many more boats will be needed for future instalments. The IEA believes offshore wind energy will be Europe’s number one power source by 2040. And the European Commission says Europe needs between 230 and 450 GW of offshore wind energy by 2050 to decarbonise the energy system and deliver the Green Deal. This requires Europe to build 7 GW of new offshore wind farm plants a year between now and 2030, and 18 GW per year between 2030 and 2050. This offers new opportunities for local communities and for the shipping sector, in shipyards and in ports.
But where are these wind farms going to be installed? In at least 60% of the North Seas it is not possible to build offshore wind farms today. These “exclusion zones” exist either for environmental reasons or because space is set aside for fishing, military activity and shipping. The capacity that would be deployed in Northern European waters under the Commission 450 GW scenario would require less than 3% of the total space there, but the maritime space will need to be shared between different activities. Ongoing talks and careful planning will be key to ensure the happy coexistence of various interests.
The much-needed European offshore wind strategy, which will be presented later this year by the Commission, will need to take this into account to ensure that the most is made out of the Green Deal.