Energy, Offshore wind

Offshore wind’s role in the fight from fossil fuels to renewable energy

In 2020, renewable energy overtook fossil fuels for the first time as the main electricity source in the EU, according to a report by Agora Energiewende and Ember (2021).

Renewable energy sources like wind and solar generated 38% of Europe’s electricity last year (a 3.4% increase from 2019), surpassing energy produced by coal and gas, which fell to 37%. This milestone in Europe’s transition to clean energy aligns with meeting many of the world’s climate change targets.

Meeting international climate targets

Various international accords are fostering countries to join forces to combat climate change. One such example is the 2015 Paris Agreement, a legally binding treaty adopted by nearly every nation to address the negative impacts of climate change. Its aim is to have countries lower greenhouse gas emissions and keep the rise of our global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius. One way to do this is by reducing the use of fossil fuels.

A target of the European Green Deal is for the EU to become climate neutral by 2050. To achieve this, the European Commission proposed a strategy to increase Europe’s offshore wind capacity from the existing 12 GW to at least 60 GW by 2030 and to 300 GW by 2050. 

And then there’s the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (UNSDG) 7, ‘Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all’ and its targets:

  • 7.1 – By 2030, ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services
  • 7.2 – By 2030, increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix
  • 7.3 – By 2030, double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency
  • 7.a – By 2030, enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technology, including renewable energy, energy efficiency and advanced and cleaner fossil-fuel technology, and promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technology
  • 7.b – By 2030, expand infrastructure and upgrade technology for supplying modern and sustainable energy services for all in developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States, and land-locked developing countries, in accordance with their respective programmes of support

Meeting environmental targets is weighing on everyone’s minds, but we must be clear that the objective is more than meeting targets. The real objective of offshore wind energy development is creating truly sustainable energy resources and systems that will secure ourselves and our planet now and in the future.

Efforts are needed to scale up sustainable energy production. This is where renewable energy comes into play—especially offshore wind. However, at the same time, we must keep an eye on environmental impacts of those energy sources.

Benefits of offshore wind

Offshore wind produces electricity at a cost that competes with existing fossil fuel technology, but with a bonus of being much more environmentally friendly. Situated offshore, wind speeds tend to be faster than on land. Floating wind farms have an even bigger potential to reach higher energy production efficiency since they’re located in deeper waters and can be placed in areas with more consistent and stronger wind speed.

Boosting the offshore wind farm industry also creates jobs. According to a Wind Vision report, the offshore wind industry has the potential to support more than 600,000 jobs in manufacturing, installation, maintenance and supporting services by 2050 – just in the United States alone.

As a clean energy source, wind turbines don’t produce harmful gas emissions that can cause health, environmental and economic issues. What’s more, wind supply is inexhaustible. As long as Earth spins, wind turbines can contribute to the world’s energy needs.

With all the advantages of offshore wind, countries around the world are ramping up offshore wind energy production. China intends to increase its offshore wind capacity significantly every year from 2023-2030. The country had less than 1 GW of offshore wind capacity until 2015, but this grew to 6.8 GW by 2019 and is estimated to exceed 50 GW by 2030.

In the United States, the Biden administration plans to expand the offshore wind energy market to help fight climate change. The target is to achieve 30 GW of offshore wind energy production by 2030, enough to reduce 78 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year and power 10 million households.

In Europe, the Danish Parliament adopted a climate agreement in 2020 enabling the country to build the world’s first artificial energy island 100 km offshore in the North Sea. When fully completed, the island will be the size of 64 football pitches and is expected to generate electricity for up to 10 million homes.

Solutions for offshore wind development

To design an offshore wind farm, it’s vital to have in-depth knowledge and reliable data to understand site-specific conditions. Environmental loads and response analyses are critical to ensure a proposed wind farm can safely withstand conditions at a given site. It is equally important for national and international regulations to determine the impacts a wind farm may have on life underwater such as fishes and whales. 

For 30 years, DHI has developed standards and tools to optimise wind farm design and ensure safe construction, operation and maintenance. Recognised as best-in-class by certifiers, our methods, data and ecological modelling tools help identify potential impacts early to ease approval processes and reduce risks.