North Sea Wind Farm Offers New Model

The North Sea Wind Power Hub, a man-made island in the North Sea, could be a breakthrough for renewable power. The planned distribution hub will send electricity via long-distance cables to six European countries.

A  planned structure off the coast of Northern England has the potential to create a new model for wind power installations worldwide. The $1.8 billion man-made island, dubbed the North Sea Wind Power Hub, would generate 30 gigawatts, more than doubling Europe’s entire current total offshore capacity.

Composed of 2.3-square-mile modules with an island in the middle, the project has the potential to supply 70 million to 100 million people with clean energy during its phased buildout between 2020 and 2050, according to its sponsor, the Dutch energy company TenneT. The capacity could be increased by adding one or two more modules.

The location of the island must comply with various suitability requirements including a lot of wind, relatively shallow water and central positioning. Taking all these factors into account, TenneT has concluded that the Dogger Bank location is the most suitable for the project. Dogger Bank is a 62-mile sandbank in a shallow area of the North Sea, between 78 miles and 180 miles off the east coast of Yorkshire.

Invested in the project are six North Sea countries: the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Germany, Denmark and the United Kingdom. Multinational cooperation is vital to achieving the high volumes. The participating nations set the stage for their joint effort in a June 2016 agreement. Their collaboration, advancing from offshore wind farms to connected man-made islands, could provide a more cost-effective platform for delivering renewable energy to the mainland.

Step-by-step development

The project’s current phase is already unfolding with construction underway on several offshore projects in the Netherland—Borssele, Hollandse Kust (south) and Hollandse Kust (north)—which will be finalized in 2023. This phase consists in the addition of more than 3.5 gigawatts of wind energy.

The second phase will unfold throughout 2024-2030 and will bring online another 7 gigawatts, probably from farms located further offshore, and prepare for large scale and international cooperation. The final phase, running between 2030 and 2050, will consist of the building of the island, as well as boost the installed wind capacity by 100 gigawatts, making the project worthy of the ‘North Sea Wind Power Hub’ name or ‘Power Link Islands’.

The Stuff of Science Fiction

“Building one or more artificial islands in the middle of the North Sea sounds like a science fiction project, but it could actually be a very efficient and affordable way for the North Sea countries to meet the future demand for more renewable electricity,” stated Torben Glar Nielsen, CTO of Energinet.

Power Link Islands showcases solutions to the logistical and technological problems all wind farms face: those closer to shore cannot deliver the capacity required due to lower wind speeds and limited space, while facilities farther offshore are costly to maintain. In addition, remote wind farms require more expensive direct current (DC) cables, as alternating current (AC) loses too much power over long distances.

Among the potential benefits of the island vision would be creating a permanent location for people and resources, a joint permanent basis for builders of wind farms and infrastructure, joint storage components (turbines, rotor blades, pylons, HV equipment), reduction in transport costs—landing strip for airplanes and permanent residency opportunities for staff, joint maintenance facilities and joint port facilities.

“TenneT is a reliable state-owned partner that can help ensure a successful energy transition in the North Sea. They can do this cost-effectively, with a focus on sustainable and ecological values. It is precisely in large-scale projects of this kind that we have to take marine flora and fauna into consideration as much as possible,” said Tjerk Wagenaar, director of leading Dutch environmental NGO Natuur & Milieu.

Currently, EU’s 2050 Energy Strategy has a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 85 to 90 percent compared to 1990 levels. Toward this goal, agreements have already been signed by members of the North Sea Wind Power Hub Consortium and include TenneT, Gasunie and the Port of Rotterdam from the Netherlands, Energinet of Denmark and TenneT TSO GmbH of Germany.

In order for Europe to reach its targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, both wind and solar energy will be required, and on a large scale. In fact, wind and solar are complementary—from spring to autumn there is more sun, while the colder months of the year are windier. The most sustainable and stable way to harness all that energy stands in both sun and wind, both on a big scale—about 2,000 gigawatts of photovoltaics, according to the Delft University of Technology, and approximately 600 gigawatts of wind energy, estimates the European Wind Energy Association. 

Video courtesy of TenneT