North Sea sees potential shift from oil and gas to renewable energy

North Sea sees potential shift from oil and gas to renewable energy

The North Sea has long been home to some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and host to hundreds of rigs for the production of oil and natural gas. Now, if European leaders have their way, this shallow and often turbulent expanse of water will, in the coming years, see hundreds of billions of dollars worth of investments aimed at reducing carbon emissions and further reducing fossil fuel imports. Russia.

At a summit held in the Belgian port of Ostend in April, the leaders of Nine European governments pledge Working together to nearly quadruple the already substantial amount of offshore wind generation capacity in the North Sea and surrounding waters by 2030 and nearly tenfold by 2050.

Significantly, the meeting, attended by European Union President Ursula von der Leyen, also included Britain, which had recently grudgingly left the bloc, and Norway, which is also not an EU member. Is. The offshore areas surrounding these two countries hold the greatest potential for wind investment.

The inclusion of all these countries was intended to “give the perspective of making the North Sea the world’s largest green power plant by combining all those coastlines,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Crew said in an interview.

Mr de Crew, whose government organized the meeting, said it was important for Britain, which is a global leader in offshore wind, to be on board despite Brexit, leaving the European Union. “Geologically, they’re not going to move,” he said. “They will remain very, very important partners on many things,” he said.

The meeting was attended by seven EU members, including Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and France, which all have North Sea coasts; Ireland, which is only a short distance from the British mainland; and Luxembourg, described by Mr. de Crew as a “virtual North Sea country”.

The push for more offshore wind is a combination of growing concerns about climate change and a recent determination to achieve energy independence from Russia, which has long been a major supplier of oil and natural gas to Europe.

Last winter, Russia tried to use the gas as a weapon against Europe in its war with Ukraine. While Moscow’s rigging of supplies raised energy prices in Europe, it also convinced its best customers, Germany and other European countries, that they needed to find other energy sources.

There are other reasons for Europe to look to the North Sea as an alternative energy source. The waters of northern Europe have strong winds and shallow waters suitable for turbines. The contemporary offshore wind industry largely originated in northern Europe and already generates a significant proportion of electrical energy in some countries, including 25 percent in Denmark by 2022 and 15 percent in the UK. according to WindEuropean industry group.

The search for alternative energy sources is one of the topics being discussed by business, political and policy leaders london climate action weekWhich runs till 2 July.

Europe is also home to some of the world’s largest turbine manufacturers, including those based in Denmark. Vestas Wind Systems and Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, a company headquartered in Spain that has been a pioneer in offshore machines.

More spending on wind energy will boost an industry employing an estimated 300,000 people in Europe. While there are concerns that the shift to renewable energy will be disastrous for centers of the petroleum industry such as Stavanger in Norway and Aberdeen in Scotland, some oil and gas workers are finding employment in offshore wind.

Achieving Europe’s hugely ambitious targets to install more offshore wind power will not be easy. Soren said, due to the lead time of five years or more (depending on leasing and actual construction), “If you are targeting 2023, the earliest you can get steel in water is 2027 or 2028.” Is.” Lassen, head of offshore wind research at Wood Mackenzie, a consulting firm.

Although Europe may have some of the largest turbine manufacturers, heavy investment in new models, inflation and other problems have eroded the financial performance of these companies. It may be difficult for them and their suppliers to pay to increase production as quickly as needed. Although wind developers say they will proceed with caution, the construction of many large structures in the sea, including (under current plans) artificial islands, is bound to have an impact on the marine environment.

Still, the overall direction seems clear: more renewable energy to replace polluting fossil fuels. Offshore wind farms are attractive to investors and generate large amounts of electricity. “Given that we need a lot of green energy, it makes sense to expand offshore wind in a big way,” said Carsten Capion, a senior analyst at Danish research firm Concito.

Larger projects now being built could provide enough electricity to light hundreds of thousands of homes and feature turbines with blades more than 300 feet long.

Industry executives say the North Sea could also be a promising laboratory for trading the energy needed to balance a system dominated by renewables such as wind and solar. Because these energy sources are variable, to work efficiently they need ways to offload or store electricity during times of excess production and access the flow from elsewhere when there is a shortage.

A network of high-capacity cables already criss-crosses the floor of the North Sea, allowing electrical energy to flow to market at the highest cost. Sometimes, for example, one of these interconnectors can bring electricity generated by nuclear plants in France to the UK or hydropower from Norway to Germany.

As renewable sources form a larger part of the energy system, such links will become important. “The system of today and the future is going to create a need for renewable energy cooperation,” said Hilde Tone, chief executive of Statnet, Norway’s electric grid operator. You could say that the North Sea and offshore wind is “an opportunity to do whatever we need to do in our renewable energy system,” he said.

This shift is already producing some forward-looking innovations. Work is expected to begin next year by barges and cranes on an artificial island in the North Sea about 30 miles off the coast of Belgium. composed largely of sand, Princess Elizabeth Island It can cover about 60 acres of sea floor and cost about $2 billion.

Some in the energy industry say the island is a harbinger of a future when most of the European electricity network will be located offshore. The futuristic-looking structure, with high walls to protect it from the sea, will be a gathering point for power cables from a large wind farm planned for the nearby waters. The cables will connect these facilities to another planned island in the sea near Denmark and also to the UK.

“Over time you will have a complete North Sea network of these types of centres,” said Chris Peters, chief executive of Belgian grid operator Elia, which is building the island.

Other plans are also underway for energy islands. Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, a renewable investment firm, wants to build an island off Denmark that could include machines to make hydrogen from the air, which is touted as the clean fuel of the future. “We believe this is more cost-effective and also creates a lot of new value for the infrastructure,” said Thomas Dalsgaard, the executive in charge of planning the project.

Building huge structures in the ocean to combat climate change is not free from environmental risks. Philippe de Bodt, a fisheries campaigner for the Belgian environmental group Climaxi, says the impact on marine life such as crabs and lobsters as well as on local fisheries is unknown.

He is also concerned about the consequences of giant companies venturing into the maritime world. “The sea is no longer a sea, it is becoming an industrial space,” he said.

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