The European Commission presented its EU Offshore Renewable Energy Strategy last week and now provides answers to key questions, such as, how will this Strategy help Europe’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis? And what regulatory changes does the strategy foresee?
The Strategy foresees to increase offshore wind capacity from currently 12 GW to at least 60 GW by 2030 and to 300 GW by 2050.
Through this strategy, EU seeks to create new opportunities for industry, generate green jobs, and strengthen the EU’s global leadership in offshore energy technologies, while ensuring the protection of environment. To meet its proposed objectives, the Commission estimates that investment of nearly €800 billion (USD $1 trillion) will be needed between now and 2050.
1. What regulatory changes does the strategy foresee to facilitate a speedy upscale of offshore renewable energy?
The current regulatory framework was not designed with cross-border offshore renewable projects and their specific challenges in mind. Clarification of the electricity market rules is therefore needed and provided in the Staff Working Document accompanying this strategy, based on this guidance the Commission will assess how the existing electricity market framework supports offshore renewable energy development and will examine whether more specific and targeted rules are needed.
Establishing an offshore bidding-zone would be best suited to a large scale-up of offshore renewables, as it ensures that renewable energy can be fully integrated into the market. This approach ensures that renewable electricity can flow to where it is needed and improve regional security of supply. Consultations and studies suggest that offshore bidding-zones for hybrid projects could be established in a way that is compatible with the electricity market rules. The redistribution effects of this approach would have to be addressed.
In addition, in order to address the practical, physical challenge of connecting projects to several markets with different connection rules, a common approach to grid connection requirements for high-voltage direct current (HVDC) grids should be developed, based on experience in the North Sea basin.
2. How does this Strategy help Europe’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis?
The massive deployment of offshore renewable energy will act as a catalyst for the sector, fostering economic growth and job creation in all parts of the renewable energy supply chain.
The offshore renewable technology sector is already outperforming the conventional energy sector in terms of value added, labour productivity and employment, and can provide a strong contribution to economic growth in the EU over the coming years.
The Recovery and Resilience Facility of €672.5 billion will channel 37% of its funds to the green transition and can be used to support reforms and investments in offshore renewable energy under the ‘Power up’ flagship initiative.
Funding under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) will need to be committed by the end of 2023. It is therefore crucial that Member States can present a pipeline of mature projects, in close cooperation with companies already preparing to invest. The strategy helps steer the direction of this development.
The RRF can also support investments in port infrastructure as well as grid connections and reforms needed to facilitate the deployment of offshore renewable energy and integration to energy systems (e.g. through streamlined permitting procedures, grids and maritime spatial planning and offshore renewable energy auctions).
3. Is this Strategy beneficial for all Member States?
The EU has the largest maritime space in the world and is in a unique position to develop offshore renewable energy.
- The North Sea has a high natural potential for offshore wind thanks to shallow waters and localised potential for wave and tidal energy.
- The Baltic Sea offers a high potential for offshore wind and some localised potential for wave energy.
EU Atlantic countries have a high offshore wind potential (both bottom-fixed and floating) and good natural potential for wave and tidal energy.
- The Mediterranean Sea offers a high potential for offshore wind (mostly floating) and localised potential for tidal and wave energy.
- The Black Sea offers a good natural potential for offshore wind (bottom-fixed and floating) and localised potential for wave energy.
- EU islands have large potential in marine energies and can play an important role in the EU’s offshore energy development. They provide attractive testing and demonstration grounds for innovative offshore electricity generation technologies.
The industrial activity underpinning offshore energy, including construction of towers and foundations, cable suppliers and vessels operators is spread across the EU. For example, wind turbine components are manufactured in Austria, Czechia and inland regions in Spain, France, Germany and Poland. Today, 62,000 people work in the offshore wind industry in Europe and around 2,500 in the ocean energy sector.
The energy generated will feed into the energy grid for the whole EU, reducing dependence on imported fossil fuels and benefitting EU consumers wherever they may live.
4. What does the strategy foresee in terms of infrastructure development?
Increasing offshore renewable energy generation requires adequate infrastructure to make the most efficient use of the generated electricity.
To ensure the scale up of offshore renewable energy in the most cost-effective manner, the infrastructure development and planning must go beyond national borders and take place at regional level, and more specifically at sea-basin level. This can result in hybrid projects combining offshore renewable energy generation and its transmission in a cross-border setting. Such projects will allow significant cost savings when comparing them with the current approach.
A further step in the development of the European energy infrastructure will be an offshore meshed grid. This would be similar to the onshore interlinked transmission grid system, where electricity can flow in many directions and would allow for a fully integrated, cost effective deployment of offshore renewable energy.
The Commission is in the process of revising the TEN-E Regulation, a long-term planning instrument for an integrated energy network, paving the way for EU investments and regulatory benefits. The development of renewable grid infrastructure, including offshore, will be addressed in the new Regulation.
5. How does the strategy address co-existence of offshore renewable energy and other sea space uses?
Suitable sea spaces for offshore energy should be compatible with biodiversity protection and other sea space uses and economic activities, such as fisheries, shipping, tourism and defence. It is estimated that scaling up the industry in line with this Strategy requires less than 3% of the European maritime space and can be done in line with the goals of the EU Biodiversity Strategy.
The Commission will work together with Member States to integrate offshore renewable energy development objectives, based on their National Energy and Climate Plans, in the national maritime spatial plans to be published in March 2021. Regional cooperation will be a key element of effective maritime spatial planning that would allow a successful large-scale deployment of offshore renewable energy. The Commission will facilitate effective cross-border cooperation between Member States within each sea basin and multi-use pilot projects, using the expertise of regional organisations.
Finally, to deploy offshore renewable energy in an inclusive, sustainable and successful manner, public acceptance is a crucial prerequisite. Public consultation is an integral part of environmental assessments and of maritime spatial planning processes. Early involvement of all groups concerned is crucial to ensure that all impacts are considered and necessary for the timely deployment of new capacity.
The Strategy commits to further analysis of the interactions between offshore renewables and other activities at sea, as well as encouraging dialogue between all concerned communities.