The northern seas of Europe are to become a major power generation hub under plans unveiled by a group of nine countries including Ireland on Monday to quadruple wind energy generation and create an international grid to wean the region off its reliance on fossil fuels.
Ireland, represented by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, joined Belgium, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark, Norway and Britain in a pledge to ramp up the construction of offshore wind farms and co-operate in building “islands” to link the grids, at the North Sea summit hosted in the coastal Belgian city of Ostend.
The nine countries pledged to develop their wind energy sectors to more than quadruple wind energy generation and collectively produce 130 gigawatts of power by 2030, and 300 gigawatts by 2050, Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo said.
“This summit marks an important milestone. A milestone to make the North Sea the biggest green power plant in the world,” Mr De Croo said, as the Ostend Declaration was signed by the national leaders.
The projected energy production would be enough to provide electricity to 300 million households, he said. “Our goal is to deliver a greener Europe, a Europe which is energy independent, and a Europe that can grow in a sustainable way that can continue creating jobs.”
The disruption of the European Union’s energy supply caused by the invasion of Ukraine, as imports of gas from Russia plummeted and electricity costs soared, provided a new impetus to move away from fossil fuels to address climate change.
How to protect crucial offshore assets, energy infrastructure and undersea data cables, was a theme of the summit, heightened by the release of an investigation by Scandinavian public broadcasters last week that alleged that Russian spy ships were secretly mapping out critical infrastructure in the North Sea.
In a sign of warming relations and a return to post-Brexit co-operation with Britain since the invasion underlined its common interests with the EU, secretary of state for energy security Grant Shapps attended the summit and announced a deal to build a new interconnector with the Netherlands. The LionLink power line is to be the world’s largest multi-use electricity power line and bring enough energy from offshore wind farms to power 1.8 million homes, the British government said.
The announcement builds on an previous pledge last year at the original North Sea summit, attended by Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany, which focused on taking advantage of the relative shallowness of the North Sea to construct vast wind farms and interlinking infrastructure.
The addition of Ireland, Luxembourg, France and Norway reflects an increased ambition for wind energy drawing in the Irish and Celtic Seas and the Atlantic Ocean, underscoring a drive to co-ordinate efforts so that grids can be interconnected.
In a joint statement published before the summit, the leaders of the nine countries said that concerns about protecting marine ecosystems needed to be balanced with the urgency of reducing carbon emissions, and that the bureaucracy and permitting process required for offshore wind developments should be reduced.
“Every turbine gets us closer to a green future,” they wrote.