Momentum swells behind North Seas Grid
The North Seas Grid should be one of the building blocks of the Energy Union, companies and campaigners have told EU energy ministers, as momentum builds behind the project connecting offshore wind farms in ten countries.
Environmental think tank E3G calls for ministers and the European Commission to work together to bring rapid agreement on a new way of coordinating nations to deliver the electricity infrastructure investment needed.
The grid would boost interconnection and renewables capacity, fight climate change and bolster energy security, which are the central goals of the Energy Union, E3G said.
Members of the European Parliament have backed the project, which will connect Ireland, Scotland, the UK, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway.
In 2014, offshore wind projects worth seven billion-dollar were funded in the North Sea by the Netherlands, the UK and Germany. Projects included the 600MW Gemini project in Dutch waters, which at €4.1 billion was the world’s largest non-hydro renewable energy plant to get the go-ahead.
The booming offshore sector stands in stark contrasts to renewables investments in Europe last year, which grew by less than 1%, according to the United Nations Environment Program’s (UNEP) annual Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment report.
Maroš Šefčovič, Commission Vice-President in charge of Energy Union, signaled his support for the network.
“I think it is one of the most impressive projects I’ve seen in long time,” he said before citing the region’s favourable conditions such as regulatory stability.
“I would really see it as an example for the future and I would say the pattern is one we have to study very closely and maybe use more widely [throughout the EU],” he added.
Maria Donnelly, the European Commission’s director of Renewable Energy, has said she wants the grid prioritised when the Netherlands holds the rotating Presidency of the EU, in the first half of 2016.
The plans include a target for interconnection of cross-border electricity grids across borders of at least 10% of a nation’s power generation capacity by 2020. But offshore wind companies are concerned there is not enough political support from member states to get results and to deliver investment at the lowest cost possible.
Informal Energy Council
EU energy ministers are meeting in Luxembourg on 16 April and ministers should also commit to agree a legal inter-governmental agreement to define a shared North Sea electricity strategy Jonathan Gavanta, associate director of E3G, said. The ministers should discuss a multi-country investment platform for the North Sea. The platform would increase the visibility of the project pipeline, attract private and institutional investors, and enable a lower cost of capital.
Industry is concerned that while arrangements such as the Baltic Energy Market Interconnection Plan were specifically cited in the Commission’s Energy Union communication, the North Seas Countries Offshore Grid Initiative was not.
The initiative has facilitated collaboration across the North Sea since 2009 and there is a well-developed investment pipeline of over €100 billion by 2030, industry said.
The project has won cross-party support from MEPs. Scottish Conservative Ian Duncan and Bas Eickhout hosted an event in March promoting the plan.
10% of Europe's electricity could be generated from wind across the North Sea but without interconnection between Ireland, Scotland, the UK, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, much of that will be lost, they told EurActiv news.
On 9 April Ian Duncan said the 2016 Dutch Presidency was the perfect opportunity to stop talking and start delivering. It was vital that the ten ministers backed the grid, he added.
“If we are to make progress toward a common electricity market, with reduced costs and lower bills for consumers and industry then we have to act now,” said Duncan.
“We have an opportunity to connect up our domestic grids, which in the short term will provide jobs in construction and in the long term in maintaining the cables. Such opportunities would inject a much needed lift to many ports struggling with the economic downturn.”