Europe sits on one of the world’s best offshore wind resources – the North Seas. Here, wind speeds are high, relatively constant and the waters are shallow, providing good conditions for bottom fixed foundations.
For decades, the North Sea has provided Europe with oil and gas. This lowered our dependence on imported oil and created jobs and economic growth. This era is coming to an end. However, the North Seas can continue to be a major power hub for Europe, now by providing green energy.
A 2017 study of the space utilisation, technology costs and seabed and wind conditions in the North Seas concludes that by 2030, offshore wind in the North Seas could supply approximately 80% of Europe’s existing electricity demand at a maximum cost of EUR 65 per MWh. In total, this would entail 607GW of offshore wind power in the North Seas, of which around one seventh is in the Baltic Sea, two sevenths in the Atlantic Ocean and the rest in the North Sea. This is the economically viable potential. Today, less than 4% of this potential is utilised.
Though it’s gradually changing its power mix, Europe still relies on coal for a large share of its electricity. Today, coal, gas and nuclear power makes up 23%, 23% and 22% of European electricity generation, respectively. By 2030 this will fall to 14%, 18% and 22% under current policies. A lot of coal or lignite fired power plants will have to be replaced by renewables, if Europe is to have any chance of meeting its existing CO2 targets.
Offshore wind can replace a large part of coal-based generation. In fact, the total potential for economically viable wind in North Seas can supply energy equalling the maximum production of all existing coal-fired power plants in Europe – two times over. How much of the potential we can realise will ultimately depend on the transmission grid, the regulatory framework and market conditions. As for solar and onshore wind, a grid is required to transmit the offshore wind power to consumers across the continent. Nonetheless, the potential of offshore wind is enormous.