Offshore wind power clears another hurdle on its path to success
Neither the persistently negative fallout from the lingering global recession nor the gloom that emanated recently from the ineffective UN climate change conference in Copenhagen could dampen last week’s news that offshore wind energy has taken a significant step closer to meeting its glowing destiny.
Recognising the tremendous potential of the fledgling offshore wind industry as part of a necessary energy revolution and as an important tool in fighting global warming, the UK approved nine wind farm development zones with a capacity of just over 32 GW.
In addition to saving money on the cost of expensive imported fuels and providing Britain with increased energy supply security, that amount of newly-installed wind energy generation capacity could deliver 25% of the UK’s total electricity needs by 2020.
In all, 12 European companies were awarded the right to develop the nine marine wind farm zones, which are expected to create tens of thousands of new jobs while exploiting Europe’s largest untapped energy source.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the new offshore wind farms zones will provide substantial opportunities for investing in UK industrial capacity.
“The offshore wind industry is at the heart of the UK economy’s shift to low carbon and could be worth £75 billion and support up to 70,000 jobs by 2020,” Brown said. “This announcement will make a significant and practical contribution to reducing our CO₂ emissions. The government will work with developers and Crown Estate to support the growing offshore wind industry and help remove barriers to rapid development.”
Concurring, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Miliband said Britain is committed to creating the right conditions for energy companies to invest in harnessing offshore wind power. “This is one of the strongest signals yet that the UK is locked irreversibly into a low carbon, energy secure prosperous future,” Miliband said.
The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) agrees with Brown and Miliband since the nine new marine development zones will help the still nascent offshore wind sector develop into a mature industry like its already highly successful onshore cousin.
There is enough wind flowing across Europe’s seas to power the region seven times over, and the 32 GW announced last week — a capacity 10 times greater than Europe’s existing offshore wind energy capacity —is proof of that potential.
So too are the over 100 GW of offshore wind farms currently being planned by European utilities, developers, and governments, mostly in the North Sea. Once operational this 100 GW plus could supply 10% of Europe’s electricity.
In order to connect these farms to the electricity grid, EWEA has proposed a 20-year grid development plan that would, in effect, become a pan-European electricity superhighway that could lower electricity costs, reduce import dependence, and cut CO₂ emissions.
Offshore wind power got another boost in December when nine European nations agreed to develop a dedicated wind energy grid in the North and Irish seas. Called the North Seas Countries' Offshore Grid Initiative, the agreement would establish an offshore energy grid to transmit wind energy between North Sea countries.
Later this year the European Commission will publish a Blueprint for a North Sea grid. This Blueprint was described by the Commission’s 2008 second Strategic Energy Review as aiming to “interconnect national electricity grids in north-west Europe together and plug-in the numerous planned offshore wind projects”.
Taken together, these developments can only be seen as a harbinger of a good future for offshore wind power. Like the onshore sector, offshore wind is being recognised for its ability to generate increasing amounts of emissions-free electricity while creating well-paying jobs as well as spurring research and development.
Its time has come.
By Chris Rose, EWEA