Plans for the construction of renewable energy islands to be located in the North Sea appear to be moving forward, with the UK’s National Grid in talks to complete a new island as early as 2030, following in the footsteps of Denmark and other northern European countries.
UK energy company National Grid announced last week that it was in talks over the development of an energy island, to be located in the North Sea, using large surrounding wind farms to power homes across Britain and partner countries via underwater cables. National Grid has extensive experience constructing these cables, having just inaugurated its 1.6 billion euro North Sea Link, the world’s longest subsea electricity interconnector, between the U.K. and Norway.
Nicola Medalova, managing director of interconnectors at National Grid stated, “We are in tripartite discussions over an energy island that the UK would likely connect to”. Medalova added, “You could have wind, hydrogen, battery storage, all the rest of it, and that can be connected to one country, two countries,” suggesting the potential for a whole country to be run from renewable energy islands such as these.
At present, the other two companies in discussions remain nameless. However, several companies across various Northern European countries have displayed interest in participating in energy island structures over the last year, following Denmark’s leadership on the new concept.
After Denmark’s government announced it would be investing $34 billion for a 51 percent stake in an artificial energy island in the North Sea, 50 miles of the Danish coast, earlier this year, several other countries have stated their interest in taking a stake in the project.
Last December, TenneT announced it had signed an agreement for TenneT, Gasunie, and Energinet to carry out research into a joint energy hub in the North Sea. The deal would see Denmark and the Netherlands working together, as North Sea neighbors connected via the Cobra cable, to develop their renewable energy potential.
Similarly, Belgian and Danish transmission system operators, Elia and Energinet, signed an agreement in February this year to carry out technical and cost-benefit analyses for the project. The two countries expect to determine the viability of the interconnection between Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium by early 2022.
Denmark’s 120,000 square meter energy island is expected to provide 3 million households with green energy in its first phase. The island will be shielded from the North Sea’s harsh weather conditions by a high sea wall on three sides and will be Denmark’s biggest construction project. It will contribute significantly to the country’s aim of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 70% from 1990 levels by 2030 and could set the way for the future of renewable projects.
Construction of the project is expected to start in 2026 following agreements with other countries and private energy firms, as well as carrying out research and feasibility studies to ensure the success of the giant renewable energy project.
Now countries across Northern Europe have begun to invest in feasibility studies, the question is how will these islands look? While Denmark plans to construct an artificial island, National Grid suggested it’s also possible to build upon an existing natural island. And just where would these islands be located? TenneT has previously suggested the shallows of Dogger Bank, a sandbank off England’s northeast coast. In addition, the energy island could be powered by purely wind power, or it could incorporate several different forms of renewable energy, as well as housing energy storage technology. Essentially, there are several different directions in which these energy islands could be taken, and it may be a case of trial and error once basic feasibility studies are complete.
With many of the details of the project still under wraps, we are left wondering whether National Grid’s development will be independent or whether it will connect via a mega cable to the Denmark project via Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. After all, the U.K. is already advanced in the area of offshore wind and undersea cable technology, with the potential to expand Denmark’s project across more of Northern Europe.
The project certainly offers new hope to a country aiming to make Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s pledge to power the whole of Britain on green energy a reality. Despite criticism over ongoing North Sea oil projects, many of Britain’s energy companies are now expanding their energy portfolios to include renewable energy projects.
Johnson stated earlier this month, "Looking at the progress that we're making in wind power, where we lead the world now in offshore wind, looking at what we can do with other renewable sources, carbon capture and storage with hydrogen potentially, we think we can get to complete clean energy production by 2035," in an interview.
Partnerships between countries with extensive experience in offshore wind and with national pledges for net-zero carbon emissions, alongside private sector experts and energy giants, could be just what is required to construct a sustainable renewable energy solution that can be replicated in various locations around the world.
By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com
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