The International Story


Offshore wind is still a relatively young technology with the vast majority of offshore wind farms located in Northern Europe. Almost all of this development has been driven by Europe’s 2020 goal for 20% of all EU energy to come from renewables. Europe now has a total installed offshore wind capacity of 22,072 MW. The UK has the largest amount of offshore wind capacity in Europe, with 45% of all installations. Germany is second with 34%, followed by Denmark (8%), Belgium (7%) and the Netherlands (5%). Together these five countries account for 98.6% of installed capacity with the top four (UK, Germany, Denmark and Belgium) accounting for 99.8% of net capacity connected in 2019. (Wind Europe. Offshore wind in Europe - Key trends and statistics 2019.

Denmark and Germany, the leading manufacturers of offshore wind turbines, and the United Kingdom are the key countries espousing offshore wind energy. Together they accounted for 87% of the cumulative installed capacity end 2019.

The first offshore wind farms in Denmark, developed in the 1990s, comprised a few small turbines located close to shore. These were followed by further small projects in Sweden, The Netherlands and the UK, employing slightly larger turbines - up to 2 MW. Today there is general consensus that the future of offshore windfarms lies in arrays of large turbines in deeper water, far from shore. The North Sea is a favoured zone because of its relatively shallow waters, strong winds and proximity to huge urban centres. Over the past few years, the size of offshore wind turbines has increased as technology advances. Massive turbines (5-8MW) are now being used in locations far from environmentally sensitive coasts, where visual impact is not an issue and winds are stronger and more consistent.

With large offshore wind farms becoming a possibility, many EU maritime countries set about reforming permitting processes to ensure that this new, large scale industrial development at sea was managed in a sustainable manner. Most of these countries are introducing a system of Marine Spatial Planning in line with EU policy to balance competing uses of the seas and have carried out Strategic Environmental Assessment, in line with the EU SEA Directive, to protect the marine environment.

Germany, Belgium and The Netherlands adopted a buffer zone, banning offshore wind farms apart from small demonstration projects, inside the 12 nautical mile zone (or 22.2 km from the coast) to protect wildlife and scenic amenity. In the United Kingdom, The Crown Estate, the landlord of the UK seabed, has carefully guided offshore wind projects in three rounds of controlled development. Round 1 (2000), acted as a demonstration round, with developments restricted in size (30 turbines/ 90MW) and area (10 Km²). In Round 2 (2003) and Round 3 (2009), developments were moved further offshore into deeper water, with the authorities selecting strategic development zones, many outside 12nm (22.2 Km), and offering them for competitive tender.

Denmark is the only Scandinavian country to have espoused offshore wind in any sizeable amount. The Danish Government sponsors all big offshore wind developments, which provide a showcase for its wind industry, a major employer. The Danish Energy Agency is a ‘one stop shop’ planning authority, responsible for electricity generating installations at sea. Potential sites are selected by the authorities following rigorous environmental analysis and generally offered for development by competitive tender. As in the rest of Europe, the trend is to move development further from sensitive shorelines with the latest government sponsored project, Horns Rev 3, comprising 45 8.3MW turbines (373.5 MW) situated 29-44 km off shore.

In Norway, various offshore wind projects proposed by private developers have been refused on environmental grounds, with only one 2.3MW turbine installed so far. Norway is currently planning to open one or two offshore areas for the development of floating wind power. This new technology will allow turbines to be floated out to sea and moored far offshore with no visual impact and less disturbance to marine ecosystems

Southern European countries are also proving slow to espouse offshore wind for a variety of reasons including possible impact on vital coastal tourist industry. France, Spain and Italy are overhauling permitting regimes to ensure sustainable development. Proposals for near-shore projects have proved highly controversial because of landscape and wildlife issues and no offshore wind farms have yet been installed in these countries.

The cautious approach to this new technology adopted by most EU countries is in sharp contrast to Ireland where the drive for offshore wind has been developer-led, with no overall strategic planning.