David Foxwell reflects on a European consensus about the role offshore wind hubs might play in decarbonising the energy sector
Last week I wrote about a newly-published report from the European Commission that highlighted the potential role ‘hybrid’ offshore wind projects that combine windfarms with transmission assets have to play accelerating the decarbonisation of the European energy sector.
Traditionally, offshore wind projects have a strong national focus with power transmission lines feeding a single national grid. Offshore generation is not usually co-ordinated with nearby developments in other countries. But as I noted last week, hybrid projects are different. They combine offshore generation and transmission assets, which conventionally operate as separate entities, and link two or more countries, providing a platform for co-ordination between them.
Now it seems that industry is swinging behind a version of that concept in which hybrids form ‘hubs’ for generating and transmitting electricity. As I report here, last week industry leaders including energy companies, developers, financiers and transmission system operators threw their weight behind the idea of an electricity hub combining offshore windfarms and interconnectors. Among the companies supporting the concept are Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, Eneco, SSE Renewables, TenneT, Equinor, Engie, innogy, Shell and Vattenfall.
They agreed that efficient use of international transmission infrastructure is required to integrate large-scale offshore wind into Europe’s energy system and that for this to happen, cross-border collaboration is essential between offshore wind developers, policy makers, regulators and transmission system operators. Together with the North Sea Wind Power Hub (NSWPH) consortium – whose members have been studying the need for large-scale, sustainable energy system in the North Sea – they have issued an invitation to the Dutch, Danish and German Governments and the European Commission to consider setting up consultation on the concept.
Energy Ministers from North Sea countries who met in the Danish city of Esbjerg last week seem to agree with industry about hybrid projects and hubs. At that meeting they agreed to extend and intensify co-operation on offshore wind and extend a political declaration on energy co-operation in the North Sea. Under the extended agreement, they plan to work together on issues such as regional screening and maritime spatial planning across national sea borders, cumulative and cross-border environmental impact assessments and a common approach to planning and permitting.
Everyone recognises that offshore wind has a pivotal role to play driving decarbonisation and that meeting the Paris Agreement requires, among other things, a major overhaul of the energy system in the countries bordering the North Sea. Independent studies show that to meet the Paris Agreement, an estimated 230 GW of offshore wind is required by 2045 in the territorial waters of the North Sea countries, of which almost 80% (180 GW) will be deployed in the North Sea itself. To achieve this, a deployment rate of around 6-7 GW/year over the period 2030-2050 is required.
The problem is that until recently, the rate of offshore wind growth in the North Sea has been around 2 GW per year. If that rate of growth continued Europe would fall far short of the pace required to meet Paris Agreement ambitions. Only by innovating can a commercially attractive business model capable of delivering on the 230 GW ambition be achieved, and as their name suggests, hubs will surely be at the centre of that process.