Markets - 27/November/2019

Offshore wind pushes boundaries in North Sea

Europe’s offshore wind revolution requires a more integrated approach

“It all comes together in the North Sea,” says Peter Brun, head of offshore wind at energy consultancy DNV GL. “This is the most advanced site in the world.” Europe has almost 20 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind installed, nearly as much as the total power generating capacity of Belgium. That figure is due to rise to 130 GW by 2040 and 180 GW by 2040, says the International Energy Agency. The European Commission estimates Europe needs between 230-450 GW of offshore wind by 2050, meaning 20 GW of offshore wind will need to be built every year from 2031-50, up from some 2 GW a year today. But such ambitious expansion faces challenges, not the least of which are maintaining cost reduction as construction conditions become more difficult and transmitting offshore production to end users.

Economies of scale are key to lowering costs, says Rob van der Hage, manager for offshore development at Dutch transmission system operator (TSO) Tennet. Eighty-five per cent of offshore wind capacity in Europe will be developed in northern Seas (in the Atlantic Ocean off France, Ireland and the UK, and in the North Sea, Irish Sea and Baltic Sea), concludes a report launched by WindEurope, an industry organisation at its offshore event in Copenhagen on November 26, 2019. This would be equivalent to around 380 GW out of 450 GW. The remaining 70 GW would be located in southern European waters, says the report.

Tennet is working on a North Sea Wind Power Hub with Dutch gas TSO Gasunie, the Port of Rotterdam and Danish gas and power TSO Energinet. The project partners imagine a series of 10-15 GW hubs of offshore wind in the North Sea. The initiative won a European Project of Common Interest (PCI) label in November 2019, giving it regulatory fast-tracking and potential access to EU funds. Tennet has a “rapidly growing” investment agenda, says Van der Hage, with at least €35 billion to be invested in Germany and the Netherlands over the next ten years.

WindEurope believes it is feasible to deploy 450 GW of offshore wind by 2050 if Europe adopts a “visionary approach” to tackle all challenges. One of those challenges is facilitating the integration of offshore wind into the European power system, highlights the organisation. An important part of the North Sea Wind Power Hub project is examining the best way to bring significant amounts of electricity generated offshore to end users. The wires of choice for connecting big offshore wind farms to land are High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC). Over long distance, power losses from HVDC are less than with standard alternating current transmission and they allow the coupling of different frequencies that exist in different EU regions, but require extra investment in supporting technology.

Getting the power to customers would rely on a “hub and spoke” HVDC grid to connect the hubs to one another and the shore, rather than continuing with single point-to-point connections from each offshore wind farm to land. The full capacity of the cable in a point-to-point connection is only used when the wind farm operates at its rated capacity, meaning a dedicated cable is underused much of the time. In a meshed grid, the shared cables could see nearly twice the power throughput, making them far more cost-effective. They would effectively double up as international interconnectors, connecting countries via North Sea wind farms. ...

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