A complicated puzzle
Behind Europe’s ambitious targets lies a complicated puzzle. The North Sea and its surroundings have always accommodated a variety of different ecosystems: shipping, fishing, “traditional” oil and gas extraction, tourism and, of course, nature. As a newcomer, the ecosystem that is now being developed for renewable energy will need to carve out a place of its own. We will need to work how to maximize the vast resource that is North Sea wind, how to do so at speed, and how to combine energy, ecology and economy so that none of the various interests at stake suffer.
This is made more complex by the fact that the region stretches across ten countries, from Ireland in the west, via the UK, France, Benelux and Germany, to the Scandinavian countries in the east. A 2019 report by management consultant Roland Berger for the EU, called Hybrid Projects: How to reduce costs and space of offshore developments, explains how offshore wind power projects have traditionally had a strong national focus, and their power transmission lines each feed only a single national grid. The generation and transmission assets, meanwhile, are developed and commercially operated as separate entities.
The key to acceleration
There is, however, a way through this complexity – one that offers quality and speed of action. The report goes on to suggest that “hybrid projects” – combining generation and transmission and linking two or more countries – can reduce costs by up to 10%, as well as taking up less space, minimizing environmental impact and offering the interconnectivity between markets and countries that is becoming increasingly vital. In the North Sea, for example, this might take the shape of a jointly developed offshore wind farm and an interconnector, allowing a Dutch wind farm to be connected to the UK and Dutch grids.
In this light, comprehensive standardization will be vital in accelerating the regional transition in the North Sea: not only in terms of technology and engineering, but also in matters such as analyzing environmental impact, permitting and licensing, and agreeing on arrangements about interoperability. Through standardization, puzzles can be made simpler, resistance and cost can be reduced, and public support and quality can be improved. This in turn will encourage governments and markets to deliver these projects.
The danger in calling for standardization is that it might lead to ever-increasing delays as studies are performed and fruitless discussions drag on. However, none of that is necessary: the North Sea countries, the EU, market operators and other stakeholders have gathered a wealth of ideas, studies, programmes and harsh practical experience. It would be easy to distil from this combined expertise and experience an “80% version” of a standardization framework that offers technological, regulatory and environmental guidance. This will then allow all the different countries around the North Sea to take the regional energy transition to another level – starting not tomorrow, but now.
To find out more about our vision for the energy transition in the North Sea and how we can work together to take it to the next level, contact Anja Vijselaar, Director Business Unit Energy, WSP in the Netherlands, [email protected] +31 6 31662564.