A European Green Deal

How offshore wind can help
decarbonise Europe

Finding the space

Offshore wind is becoming an increasingly prominent feature off the coasts of Europe.

Allocating appropriate space at the appropriate time is a fundamental prerequisite for offshore wind energy expansion. And finding the space in time is crucial to achieve an installation rate for offshore wind generation towards 2030 and 2050 that match the high ambition level of the Green Deal for Europe. European governments can help find this space by considering how future MSPs can be brought in line with the long-term vision of net-zero emissions by 2050.

The growing space requirements for offshore wind energy also raises a more general, societal discussion of how to best utilise Europe’s limited maritime space.

Starting from the premise that we should reach 450GW of offshore wind generation to reach a climate neutral Europe by 2050, the questions we must answer are:

  • How do we find the space for an accelerated buildout of offshore wind generation?
  • How do we ensure co-existence with other maritime activities?
  • How do we ensure the buildout is aligned with the need for environmental protection?

The northern seas hold an immense untapped potential for offshore wind

By 2030, the economically feasible potential for offshore wind in the northern seas is more than 600GW

Source: BVG Associates for Wind Europe, 2017

How do we find the space for an accelerated buildout of offshore wind generation?

Sites or areas with limited existing uses of the sea or seabed are becoming increasingly scarce.

Eventually, there will be too few of these areas to sustain the continued expansion of offshore wind generation needed to decarbonise Europe.

Larger, more coherent areas are required and shared use of maritime space should be considered. Given the lead times from site acquisition to commissioning of offshore wind farms, which can last up to a decade, European governments’ planning for 2030 and beyond should start now.

In 2021, European governments are obliged to submit their MSPs to the European Commission, detailing their intended use of their national waters. Spatial planning of sea use has been undertaken in many countries already and continues to develop. Nonetheless, these existing MSP processes are not entirely fit for purpose when considering Europe’s energy needs as they do not consider the wider goal to create a net-zero emission economy by 2050.


Short term
Maritime spatial plans in line with decarbonisation target
To help stay on a trajectory capable of delivering a green deal for Europe, MSPs could include provision for an increasing amount of offshore wind generation. This would mean identifying space for a total of 130 GW of offshore wind by 2030 within the next two years. Upcoming plans should also have the need for future offshore wind energy expansion in mind.

National TSOs and energy authorities can facilitate this process by considering and providing a number of landing points in the onshore grid, allowing a future largescale connection of offshore wind generation.

Long term
Plan with some wiggle-room
As with all long-term planning, even the best plans for an offshore wind buildout might change due to unforeseen factors. The future technological and economic development will almost certainly necessitate adjustments to today’s energy planning. Hence, to help prepare for all eventualities, European governments might consider opting to designate a little more space than needed.

In the same way, European MSPs should also include provisions for future technological development which could provide opportunities for offshore wind farms in areas that have not historically been suitable. For example, new foundation types which would allow deeper waters to be developed could become cost competitive.


How do we ensure the buildout is aligned with the need for environmental protection?

Our natural environment is under threat from several factors, not least a changing climate. The North Sea and its various habitats and species are no exception.

One of the most important levers to protect biodiversity in the northern seas is to reduce carbon emissions and keep the temperature increase within 1.5°C. Offshore wind energy from northern seas will be an important part of Europe’s decarbonisation.

Offshore wind farms can have localised positive impacts on biodiversity. For example, turbine foundations and underwater structures can create habitats for certain marine species, providing local increases in biodiversity. However, as with all large infrastructure projects, offshore wind generation comes with environmental considerations.

The installation of underwater structures can have effects on seabed habitats during the construction phase, for example. The industry is constantly seeking to improve its understanding of such potential environmental impacts as technology evolves, and how best to develop and apply appropriate mitigation measures.

One of the most important levers to protect biodiversity in the northern seas is to reduce carbon emissions

The impacts of offshore wind farms on the natural environment are complex fields within marine science. It is recognised that there is limited long-term scientific data available on an international level on these impacts. Through an improved and collated evidence base, the future buildout of offshore wind can be facilitated through use of best available science.

Therefore we need to start systematically accumulating existing data and develop new and improved knowledge on the environmental effects of offshore wind farms. Better understanding of cumulative environmental impacts is a critical part of this need.

There is an important dialogue to be had amongst governments, industry and civil society on how to best balance offshore wind generation so that it can contribute to decarbonising Europe,mitigating the global risk of climate change – while ensuring important habitats and species are protected.

Read our latest whitepaper

Taking action to stay within 1.5ºC. Replacing fossil fuels with green energy is the main lever to combat climate change. Learn more about the actions we need to take to transform the global energy system.

Read the paper

Short term
Establish shared platform for research
A shared platform should be established at a European level, to consolidate existing and bring forward further scientific research on the potential environmental impacts of offshore wind farms on the local environment. This programme should include representatives from academia, environmental NGOs, industry and authorities both on a national and regional/EU level.

Long term
Continue to explore how offshore wind farms can have a positive impact on the environment
Academia, NGOs and industry should continue working together to build on the shared knowledge platform.

Such platform should aim to understand and better manage the effects of installation and operation of offshore wind farms, to develop and implement methods of mitigation and to enable fully informed environmental impact assessments that are balanced with the impact of climate change.


How do we enable co-existence with other maritime activities?

Our European maritime space is used for many other offshore activities alongside offshore wind generation.

Such offshore activities include: oil and gas exploration, fisheries, submerged pipelines, transmission cables and ICT infrastructure, shipping lanes and subsea resource extraction, as well as recreational uses and defence.

Some of these uses are mutually exclusive. Others can be combined. And as offshore wind turbines grow larger and are spaced further apart, co-location will increasingly need to be considered to balance all interests.

One example of co-location is that offshore wind farms, if developed as hybrid solutions, could serve as both renewable energy sources and as a transmission link connecting two or more markets. Another example is air defence radars, that might be upgraded, relocated or reconfigured to provide the needed coverage, thus allowing for a coexistence between defence needs and energy generation.

As offshore wind turbines grow larger and are spaced further apart, co-location will increasingly need to be considered to balance all interests

Short term
Important dialogue on co-existence
To facilitate increased consideration of co-location, an inclusive dialogue should be established. Based on evidence and the experiences of the last decade, this dialogue should include all relevant European and international stakeholders. By facilitating discussions on how to expand offshore wind capacity to ensure decarbonisation of Europe and how to prioritise our sea use, this dialogue will be critical to reaching the high-level of political ambition to deliver net-zero emissions by 2050.

Alongside this international dialogue, individual government branches need to work together with all sectors at a national level to support the development of the solutions needed to enable Europe to reach this ambitious goal.

Long term
Develop, test and scale new means of co-existence
Having acknowledged the important value of all offshore economic activities, governments, offshore wind developers and other industries should continue their cooperation to enable and develop new options for co-existence.

Contact us

Interested in getting to know more?

Please do send us an email if you have any questions or enquiries about the content of this paper.
Our Global Public Affairs team is here to help.