Although only a small piece of the North Sea is in our possession, this country is a front-runner in the production of offshore wind energy. This is down to strong and innovative companies, as well as a government that is fully behind the ‘offshore’ route.
As of last year, Belgium had racked up a total of nine wind farms in the North Sea, together accounting for a capacity of 2.26 gigawatts. 399 wind turbines generate electricity to meet the demand of 2.2 million households.
Since the connection of the first wind turbines in the Belgian North Sea in 2009, offshore wind energy has developed at an unbelievable pace. The Seastar, Mermaid en Northwester II parks that were completed in 2020, host turbines with a power of 8,4 to 9,5 MW. For comparison, the turbines on Belwind and the first phase of C-Power, installed in 2009, have a power of 3 to 5 MW. The technological progress has thus been keeping pace.
Crucial link in energy transition
Thanks to economy of scale and the building up of experience, the manufacturing costs for turbines and the installation costs for wind farms have also dropped over that period. Indeed, according to the International Energy Agency, wind energy, both onshore and offshore, has been a competitive energy source in Europe since 2020. It can generate electricity at a price comparable price to gas or nuclear power stations. But the drop in costs has not yet ended. According to sectoral organisation WindEurope, the costs per megawatt hour supplied will fall again by almost half over this decade.
The federal government, that is authorised for offshore activities, recently confirmed the trust in off-shore wind energy and increased the ambitions for creating a second zone in the Belgian North Sea. This Princess Elisabeth Zone is intended to deliver 3.5 gigawatts of extra capacity by 2030. It will turn our North Sea into a climate-friendly energy station with a capacity of almost 6 gigawatts, making it a crucial link in the energy transition.
But before that second zone can become fully operational, policy-makers and developers of wind farms are facing a few more challenges. After all, the construction and operation of an offshore wind farm remains a complex and capital-intensive exercise, in which any uncertainty will push up funding cots. This is why a clear and stable policy framework is needed. Any delays in the enhancement of the infrastructure needed to bring the power generated at sea to the consumer on land also need to be avoided to the extent possible, as these pose a risk to investors.
Offshore wind energy has been given a major role in the European Union’s ambition to be climate-neutral by 2050. The European Commission recently proposed quintupling the total installed capacity to 60 gigawatts by 2030, and to 300 gigawatts by 2050. Other European countries that have traditionally performed well in wind energy, such as Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, are also planning further developments in the North Sea. In addition, new markets are opening up in France, Poland, Lithuania and Greece, among others.
Belgian offshore expertise is conquering the world (seas)
Various large companies from this country have since gained a pioneering role in offshore wind energy. In addition, an ecosystem has arisen of innovative SMEs that are active in ‘offshore’, such as in terms of maintenance and cabling for wind farms or in equipment for turbines. Parkwind, which built four of the eight Belgian wind farms, is currently active in Germany and Ireland. DEME’s offshore division is also working as a maritime service provider in several projects in Germany and France, among others, as well as in China and Taiwan. In the same sector, Jan De Nul is busy constructing a wind farm in Denmark. Also in Denmark, Deme is a member of a large consortium that is a candidate for constructing an energy island there. Belgian companies are active on the other side of the ocean too. Both DEME and Jan De Nul are involved in the construction of Vineyard Wind, the first commercial wind farm in American waters.
This means our companies are succeeding in converting the expertise built up in offshore wind energy into major global projects. At the same time, the federal government is ensuring that the potential in our own North Sea is seeing maximum utilisation.
Annemie Vermeylen, Belgian Offshore Platform