Reaching climate targets with marine-based renewables
An article by Michael Hickin, Manager — Marine Environment at Renewable Grid Initiative (RGI)
Ambitious climate targets to limit anthropogenic global warming, as established by the Paris Agreement, call for an urgent transition of the European energy system. The shift to renewables contributes to achieving ambitious climate targets.
Costs for offshore wind generation is decreasing rapidly. As a consequence, marine-based renewables are expected to represent a significant proportion of future overall deployment in Europe.
To integrate this offshore renewable expansion, momentum is also building for the needed grid infrastructure. In addition, guided by the ambition to develop the European Internal Energy market and by national interests of energy security and sustainable economic development, grid developers are increasing the number of submarine interconnectors. Significant grid development initiatives are currently under investigation across European marine regions. These include the North Sea Wind Power Hub, which intends to link offshore wind generation and energy markets surrounding the North Sea via one or more ‘energy islands’, or initiatives focused on offshore meshed grids, including the PROMOTioN project. It is envisaged that about one third of future European power grids will be built in the marine environment.
There are voices that suggest that marine infrastructure development in times of high opposition against onshore renewables and powerlines projects is an ‘easy’ solution. The expansion of offshore RES and supporting grid infrastructure however requires the same level of diligence as onshore. It must be undertaken in an environmentally sustainable manner involving all potential stakeholders with their diverse interests in planning and decision-making processes. Our seas are as sensitive and valuable as onshore ecosystems while experience on how to protect them is less widespread.
RGI’s Marine Grid Declaration, signed at European Commission PCI (Project of Common Interest) Energy Days in March 2019, sets a precedent for environmentally-sound, inclusive decision-making by contributing to the minimisation and where possible elimination of marine environmental impacts. For marine power grids, the Declaration encourages best-practice approaches to:
- Strategic and project-level planning and permitting activities — ensuring that an ecosystem-based approach is taken.
- Cross-sector and international cooperation — making sure all marine stakeholders are involved early on in any marine grid development initiative.
- Knowledge generation and sharing — making available the necessary information, experiences and best-practices to help guide project developers.
- The provision of guidance — which can support realisation of the above approaches.
The Declaration was developed in collaboration with energy and environmental stakeholders from across Europe including the European Commission, grid developers, NGOs and industry representatives. Until today it has been signed by 31 parties. Now we need to systematically further our understanding on how to properly implement many of its principles. Projects like the ones mentioned above have to follow its guidance. Existing or new initiatives need to provide a space for joint learning across different projects.
In the past, RGI has undertaken occasional activities on power grids in the marine environment. These include hosting workshops on nature protection, publishing a report which addressed knowledge gaps and providing a forum where relevant best-practices can be recognised — via our “Good Practice of the Year” award. Now, with the Declaration adopted and commitment to it from many Parties, we intend to more regularly facilitate this exchange, thereby supporting its systematic implementation. Therefore, RGI intends to establish a marine knowledge exchange platform for developers and other sectors such as energy generation to share experiences.
By implementing principles of the Marine Grid Declaration, safe-guarding of the marine environment and fair outcomes can be better achieved. This will provide the best chance at ensuring the timely deployment of needed marine power grids — thereby supporting the energy transition in Europe and achieving ambitious climate targets.