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Floating offshore wind to be critical future power supply for EU

Out-Law News | 03 Jun 2021 | 9:33 am | 2 min. read

Floating offshore wind farms have the potential to make a significant contribution to Europe’s power supply in the future, according to the European Commission.

The EU Blue Economy Report 2021 (178 page / 8.45MB PDF), which focuses on the performance of the EU-27 economic sectors related to oceans and the coastal environment, suggested there was a generation potential of 4 million megawatts (MW) of energy from floating offshore wind farms in EU waters. Currently, just 62MW of capacity has been installed.

According to the report, floating offshore wind could take a 14% share of the total offshore wind market in Europe, contributing around 3% of Europe’s total power supply by 2050 with an installed capacity of around 40 gigawatts.

The report said 3 million MW of capacity could be installed in sea areas with a depth of more than 100 metres, giving the potential to open up new markets for wind energy in the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and even the Black Sea.

Alice Boldis, an expert on major projects in the energy sector at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said: “The EU’s ambitious goals for offshore wind expansion - the EU requires 300 GW of installed offshore wind generation in European waters by 2050 – can only be achieved if the massive potential of floating offshore wind is properly exploited.

“This may not only allow for the development of further marine sites but also for better conditions for power generation compared to bottom fixed foundations,” Boldis said.

The report said strong policy support from the European Commission and national governments as well as growing demand for renewable energy would help increase demand for offshore wind energy, and predicted strong growth after 2030.

Using data from 2018, the report also showed that employment in the offshore wind sector has boomed with the number of jobs in the industry growing by 15% between 2017 and 2018. Meanwhile more recent data showed the Covid-19 crisis had a much smaller impact on marine renewable energy than other blue economy sectors.

The report focused predominantly on offshore wind energy as this sector is more established than other sources of offshore renewable energy, but it did note that 66% of global wave energy capacity was installed in the EU last year. Energy generated by wind, waves, tidal and solar photovoltaic means are all likely to play a role in helping the EU meet a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.

The publication of the Blue Economy report follows the European Commission’s strategy for offshore renewable energy produced last December, which called on EU member states to coordinate more with each other when planning offshore energy projects.

In November last year the German government increased its targets for expanding offshore wind production.

The Blue Economy report does not include any UK data in the wake of Brexit. However the development of offshore wind capacity has also been identified as a priority by the UK government, with prime minister Boris Johnson claiming offshore wind plants could power every home in the UK by 2030.

The report also examines trends in other areas of the blue economy, including tourism, marine transport, and fisheries and aquaculture. It estimates that the blue economy contributed 1.5% of gross value added to the EU economy in 2018, and accounted for 2.3% of jobs.