The UK’s EU Environment Sub-Committee has written to the Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth Kwasi Kwarteng highlighting the importance of North Sea energy co-operation and its relationship to the UK’s net-zero goal
The committee asked the Minister what role the UK might play in European bodies such as the North Seas Energy Cooperation initiative after Brexit. It remains unclear whether the UK will strike a deal with the EU by the end of 2020, or walk away without one.
In July 2020, a ministerial meeting of the North Sea Energy Cooperation reinforced the need for a European approach to future offshore wind development. A joint declaration was agreed on the key role of offshore wind energy in achieving Europe’s climate targets for 2050.
However, as reported by OWJ, in February 2020 the UK – which has the largest offshore wind industry in the world – was excluded from the European initiative, which supports and facilitates the development of energy and offshore grids.
“We understand that – in the absence of a UK-EU agreement that provides for UK participation in the North Seas Energy Cooperation initiative – you would still seek to pursue co-operation with other North Sea countries on these matters,” the committee said, noting that it would support those efforts.
“Intergovernmental co-operation and co-ordination will be essential to ensure the cost-effective and efficient development of low-carbon energy in the North Sea. We hope the other North Sea countries and the European Commission will be open to resuming structured co-operation on North Sea energy development once the current UK-EU negotiations have concluded.
“We hope the future UK-EU partnership will support the efficient cross-border trade of energy, in part because this would enable the cost-effective development of low-carbon energy in the North Sea.
“Should an initial UK-EU free trade agreement contain limited energy provisions, we would support the government seeking to continue working with the EU to develop more efficient cross-border trading arrangements.”
The committee noted that Norway, a non-member state, participates in the North Seas Energy Cooperation initiative and asked the Minister what the conditions are for Norway’s involvement. “Is the EU requiring specific conditions to be met for the UK to participate in the initiative, as part of, or alongside, a future UK-EU partnership agreement?” the committee asked the Minister.
In October 2020, the committee heard evidence on North Sea energy co-operation and net zero from witnesses with expertise in the development of offshore wind, electricity interconnection, hydrogen, and carbon capture and storage.
RenewableUK director of future electricity systems Barnaby Wharton told the committee “The most obvious way in which the North Sea can support net zero is through the deployment of offshore wind.”
Representing the North Sea Energy programme, TNO energy expert Dr René Peters said hydrogen could have an important role. “Green hydrogen is a very attractive way to link offshore wind production with hydrogen production,” he said. Dr Peters added, “That can extend offshore wind beyond just decarbonising the power system and enable it to export energy not via power cables but via pipelines to continental Europe.”
Witnesses highlighted the value of intergovernmental co-operation between North Sea countries. Mr Wharton told the committee, “If we want to build the cheapest and most efficient system where power flows in the best way, we need co-operation to minimise costs.”
Dr Peters said, “Collaboration is really valuable if we want to accelerate the low-carbon energy options for the North Sea and create better interconnectivity.”
National Grid Ventures head of business development Martin Cook said, “We need to be co-ordinated on timing, investments, regulated models and trading platforms. Those things need to be co-ordinated to optimise the system we are going to build. That is essential, because billions of euros and pounds will be invested.”
Dr Peters told the committee that, until it was excluded, UK participation in North Seas Energy Cooperation “helped get regulations and harmonisation in place” and enabled European countries with similar ambitions to learn from one another. Mr Wharton said, “Not being part of these conversations just slows down the regulatory process and adds unnecessary complexity into the mechanics.”
The committee’s letter presents its findings, including that intergovernmental co-operation will be essential to ensure low-carbon energy development in the North Sea is cost-effective and efficient.
In the letter, the committee asks the Minister how the government’s offshore transmission network review, energy white paper, and hydrogen strategy will encourage co-operation with other North Sea countries and support the realisation of benefits that can be achieved.
The committee said it intends to pursue further work on the ecological consequences of energy development in the North Sea.