Your browser is not supported. Please update it.

19 November 2020

EU places offshore renewables at heart of net zero plan

While the EU dithers on implementing stricter climate targets for 2030, as part of its plan to reach net zero emissions by 2050, there’s one thing it want to make clear – offshore renewable will be a central part of its strategy.

As part of the encompassing Green New Deal, today it announced its Offshore Renewable Energy Strategy, which aims to drive bloc-wide decarbonization, while maintaining the EU’s current leadership in the offshore renewables sector. It also aims for the energy transition to be accelerated and become a key part of the continent’s economic recovery from Covid-19.

From the first installation of Denmark’s 5 MW Vindeby offshore wind farm in 1991, the bloc has seen over 23 GW of capacity installed in its seas. It may be slightly resentful that this figure will take an 11 GW hit at the start of next year when the UK finalizes its exit, but that certainly hasn’t halted ambition.

Under the new strategy, the EU will aim to ramp up its offshore energy capacity from 12 GW today, to more than 61 GW by 2030, before a push to reach 340 GW of offshore renewables by 2050. With advancements in alternative technologies, these figures include over 1 GW of wave, tidal and ocean-based floating solar at the 2030 milestone and 40 GW by 2050. Of the offshore wind capacity, an increasing share is also expected to use floating platforms, which account for just 40 MW of today’s capacity, especially in deep waters in the Mediterranean and Atlantic waters.

Given that the lead time for offshore wind projects is often in excess of 10 years, the 60 GW mark for offshore wind by 2030 will be a tough ask, but it’s certainly doable. In Rethink Energy’s offshore wind forecast at the start of the year, we forecast that the bloc would reach 51 GW by then, but that reformed planning procedures would open scope to push well beyond this.

In its announcement, the EU has all the usual spiel of more investment, more growth, less energy dependency, lower emissions, affordable energy, environmental protection, and building on the 65,000 jobs in Europe’s current ocean energy sector. However, it did outline key steps to making this possible.

As part of reaching this capacity target, the EU has attached an €800 billion price tag up to 2050, with early financial incentives to projects to provide certainty to investors from both private and public sectors. Much of this finance will have to come from utilities and energy majors, hopefully including oil companies like Shell, BP and Total as part of their internal transitions. The bloc also hopes to mobilize funds for offshore development including: InvestEU, Horizon Europe and the EU’s Innovation fund, among others.

It also aims to maximize resource utilization and transnational collaboration. While the windy North Sea has seen most of the EU’s installed offshore wind capacity, the Baltic, Mediterranean, Black Seas, and Atlantic Ocean will all need to become home to power generating capacity. For the technology supply chain and infrastructure development at ports, a pan-European approach must be taken to maximize stakeholder engagement.

The purpose of the EU target then, is to integrate the offshore renewable energy development objectives of its member states. This will hope to see more cohesion between National Maritime Spatial Plans, which coastal states are due to submit by March 2021, as well as offshore grid planning through the revised TEN-E regulations.

In announcing the strategy, European Commission VP Frans Timmermans stated that “With our vast sea basins and industrial leadership, the European Union has all that it needs to rise up to the challenge. Already, offshore renewable energy is a true European success story. We aim to turn it into an even greater opportunity for clean energy, high quality jobs, sustainable growth, and international competitiveness.”