In the cold waters of the North Sea, Denmark looking for an alternative to keep warm during its harsh winters. And, also, to end its dependence on Russian gas.
The government of Scandinavian countries announced last week that it was seeking to accelerate the construction of a energy project unprecedented that had already been announced in 2020: the so-called “energy islands”.
These are some megaconstructions made up of sets of wind turbines which will be placed on sorts of artificial islands and which, according to the projects, will allow Denmark to generate much more energy than that produced by other wind farms in the world.
It is considered the largest construction project in Danish history, with an estimated cost of US$34 billion.
It was to be completed by 2030; but, after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Danish government announced that it would seek to accelerate its completion as a European alternative to Russian oil and gas.
“Denmark and Europe must break free from Russian fossil fuels as quickly as possible,” Climate, Energy and Utilities Minister Dan Jørgensen said in a statement.
The official assured that the energy islands are a “green way” for stop funding Putin’s war with European moneygiven that, according to him, the North Sea has sufficient wind potential to cover the energy needs of millions of European households.
“This huge offshore wind potential needs to be exploited and therefore the Danish government is starting preparations to create additional power islands in addition to those already planned,” he added.
According to official data, almost 49% of the total energy produced by Denmark comes from wind sources.
Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency estimates that around 16% of the country’s generation is currently dependent on Russia (in 2016 it was 34%).
Denmark has long harnessed strong sea winds to generate electricity. In fact, it was andfirst country in the world build an offshore wind farm in 1991.
Under the Climate Act passed by Congress in 2019, Copenhagen has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2030 and to be carbon neutral by 2050.
Last December, the government announced that it would halt all new oil and gas exploration in the North Sea.
The new islands of the North Sea
More than 400 natural islands are part of Denmark, including Greenland, but the country now wants to add artificial ones for energy purposes.
The construction of the first “energy islands” was announced in mid-2020.
At the time, the Danish Energy Agency said they would be the first of their kind in the world and that they were looking to exploit the “huge wind resources of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea”.
“The islands (…) will serve as hubs that can create better connections between the energy produced by offshore wind energy and the electrical systems in the region around the two seas,” he said.
It was then calculated that offshore wind turbines around the islands will be able to supply green electricity to at least five million homes.
“The energy islands mark the start of a new era for electricity generation from offshore wind energy,” the agency said.
According to the plan, the first part of the project involves the creation of an artificial island in the North Sea which will serve as a hub for offshore wind farms providing 3 GW of electricity, with a potential for long-term expansion of 10 GW. . .
The other, smaller, will be placed in the Baltic seaon the island of Bornholm, and should produce 2 GW of electricity.
To give you an idea, to produce 1 GW approximately 3.125 million photovoltaic panels are currently needed and this is the amount of energy that 110 million LED bulbs would consume, according to data from the US Department of Energy.
Same but different
The two energy islands are based on the same concept, but they will not be identical.
That of the Baltic Sea will be located on an existing island, which means that it will be located on land: they define it as an “island within an island”.
That of the North Sea, on the other hand, will be built in a artificial island, which was initially to be the size of 18 football pitches (120,000 m2), but is expected to be three times larger.
Since it will be considered a “critical infrastructure” for the country, the government has announced that it will control at least 50.1% of the islands, while the rest will go to private companies.
The project plans to supply electricity not only to the Danes, but also to the power grids of other neighboring countries.
Professor Jacob Ostergaard of the Technical University of Denmark told the BBC last year that countries like Belgium, the UK, Germany and the Netherlands could also benefit.
a new idea
Ostergaard notes that the idea of energy islands is a “revolutionary” concept.
“This is the next big step for the Danish wind industry. We led onshore, then we made the move offshore and now we are making the move with energy islands, so this will keep Danish industry in a pioneering position,” he says.
Currently, most countries that use wind sources do so through isolated turbine parks, which supply power directly to the power grid.
According to the Danish Energy Agency, with the creation of the islands, wind turbines can be placed farther from the coast and more efficiently distribute the electricity they produce between several countries.
The islands serve as hubs, or green power plants, which collect electricity from surrounding offshore wind farms and distribute it to the power grid.
“This makes it easier to direct electricity from an area with vast wind resources to areas that need it most, while ensuring that the power generated by the wind turbines is used as efficiently as possible in terms of demand. electricity,” he added.
The project, however, also received several questions, mainly due to its high cost, the highest that Denmark had paid for a construction.
Local energy companies, such as Ørsted, have also questioned the effectiveness of building an artificial island, a method never before explored for these purposes.
Likewise, the considerable distance from the coast where they will be located has been criticized, which could hamper their operations, especially due to weather conditions and the impact this could have on the marine ecosystem.
Whether the country could complete construction on time or speed it up, as the Department of Energy is now demanding, has also been questioned due to the scale of the project.
Project for Europe
It is currently unclear how or where the new islands announced last week by the Danish government will be located, but they have said their aim is to help the flow of energy to Europe.
Denmark hopes to discuss the potential expansion of energy islands with representatives of other European Union countries on May 18, during a ministerial meeting in Esbjerg, in the south of the country, on the offshore energy possibilities of the North.
“The EU must become independent of Russian fossil fuels as soon as possible and the best way forward is for European countries to work together to increase and accelerate the construction of renewable energies in the North Sea”, said the Danish Minister for Energy.
Last November, the European Union announced plans to increase the bloc’s offshore wind capacity 25-fold by 2050 and quintuple by 2030.
Renewables provide about a third of the bloc’s current electricity needs. According to EU data, offshore wind energy currently supplies around 12 gigawatts to countries in the region.