North Sea Offshore Wind Development

From Global Energy Monitor
This article is part of the Global Energy Transition Tracker project sponsored by Global Energy Monitor


According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the United Nations (UN), and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), new oil and gas development and exploration must end as it is incompatible with limiting global warming to 1.5C.[1] The long term horizon for developing and exploiting field reserves in the North Sea - with production in some cases projected to begin in the 2030's and extend into the 2050's - is at odds with commitments to achieve net zero emissions by midcentury. Despite this, North Sea nations are continuing with oil and gas exploration. For example, in July 2023, the United Kingdom announced plans to grant more than a hundred new licenses for continued fossil fuel exploration in the North Sea, citing oil and gas dependencies in existing net-zero planning.[2]

The North Sea is particularly well suited for offshore wind farms because the sea depths are low and the wind conditions are exceptionally good. The North Sea is also the key to a greener Europe that does not depend on coal, oil, or gas. Denmark, with its highly suitable sea areas and leading industry and research in wind power, is well positioned to drive the green transformation.[3]

Europe plays an important role in the offshore wind energy sector. Wind farms are installed in 11 countries, with the majority located in the North Sea. The North Sea is home to the world's largest offshore wind farm. Unlike fossil fuels, renewable energy can provide an unlimited amount of energy. Renewable energy can also help combat energy poverty, create new jobs in the green sector, protect the environment, and combat global warming.[4]

A coordinated rollout with multiple energy connections between North Sea countries is much more efficient than just connecting every new wind farm to its home country by default. Further acceleration of cooperation initiatives is required to realize the full potential of the North Sea. The increasingly large and variable volume of offshore wind electricity will be difficult to integrate.

To reach climate neutrality by 2050, offshore wind needs to grow in the European Union to 300 GW by 2050.[5] As with elsewhere globally, the largest challenge for offshore wind deployment will be the mismatch between energy supply and demand, given wind’s variability. This challenge is particularly pertinent in Europe, where winter may see very little electricity derived from solar alongside large variation in wind output over weekly timescales.[6]

Symbolic Importance

The North Sea holds vital potential for the global energy transition and stands to set a strong example for regions with similar abundance of offshore wind resources. This area is particularly well-suited to offshore wind because the sea depths are low and the wind conditions are exceptionally favorable; it is currently home to the world’s largest offshore wind farm. Several European countries border The North Sea, making it a key learning lab for multilateral collaboration. In addition to governmental bodies, there are considerable wind industry and research resources available through nearby Denmark. Countries bordering the North Sea region are working to develop a “hub-and-spoke” model of offshore wind energy distribution to improve efficiency and better account for variable wind volume, a collaborative process which could provide an important template for other areas around the world. Despite its renewable energy potential, the North Sea is also the site of many competing uses, including plans to exploit fossil fuel reserves—which would place net zero emissions goals in jeopardy. It will be critical to many locations around the world to see how such challenges can be navigated moving forward. The plans for a North Sea energy island will likely play a key role in helping Europe phase out fossil fuels, accelerating the green transition. This project will be the first artificial island constructed to supply renewable energy to several countries. It will promote new standards for the buildout of offshore wind power while being based on sustainable construction and design. Offshore wind in the European Union must grow to 300 gigawatts (GW) to reach climate neutrality by 2050. As of 2023, the North and Baltic Seas have approximately 52 GW of wind power capacity in the announced or pre-construction phases, and just 7.7 GW under construction, leaving much room for development toward climate targets.

Current System Description

Current Power Capacity Mix

In the first half of 2023, newly added offshore wind in European countries was 2.1GW, bringing the total installed capacity of offshore wind in Europe to 32GW.[7] The Siemens turbines are the most popular in this area and represent 64% of the turbines installed, followed by Vestas at 24%. Monopile structures are the most commonly used in the North Sea, offering the cheapest solution with a simple manufacturing process and installation.[4]

According to the January 2023 update of the Global Wind Power Tracker by Global Energy Monitor, there is approximately 25.03 GW of operating wind power capacity in the North Sea and the national waters surrounding it. The United Kingdom has the most operating capacity at almost 7 GW, followed by Germany with 6.5 GW, and the Netherlands with 2.8 GW.[8]

Operating capacity in MW, Belgium, 2023.
Operating capacity in MW, Denmark, 2023.
Operating capacity in MW, France, 2023.
Operating capacity in MW, Germany, 2023.
Operating capacity in MW, Ireland, 2023.
Operating capacity in MW, the Netherlands, 2023.
Operating capacity in MW, Norway, 2023.
Operating capacity in MW, United Kingdom, 2023.

Prospective Power Capacity

According to Global Energy Monitor's January 2023 update of the Global Wind Power Tracker, there is approximately 52 GW of wind power capacity in the announced or pre-construction phases, and 7.7 GW under constriction. The United Kingdom has the most wind power capacity under development or construction at 38 GW, followed by Germany with 5.7 GW, and The Netherlands with 4.5 GW.[8]

Offshore wind capacity in the Baltic and North Seas. Graphic originally from Energy Monitor. Data originally from GlobalData.

Offshore Wind in North Sea

Offshore Wind Targets

The Ostend Declaration, which was signed by nine countries in April 2023, has updated two targets after 2022's Esbjerg North Sea Summit: the first is to increase the interim target from 76GW to 120GW by 2030, second is to increase the 2050 target from 260GW to 300 GW.[9][10] Countries also announced their updated North Sea offshore wind targets accordingly at the Ostend Declaration meeting[9][11]

Offshore wind targets and prospective wind capacity in the North Sea, as established through the Ostend Declaration and tracked by Global Energy Monitor's Global Wind Tracker.

In addition to these specific offshore wind targets, North Sea countries and territories have established individual renewable energy generation and emissions reduction targets. The European Union as a whole has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030, as well as increasing the share of renewable energy to at least 32% of total generation.[12]

Countries in the North Seas Energy Cooperation or around the North Sea:

*by 2023, GEM
Country Official Target Offshore Wind Development
Emission Target Renewable Generation Target Offshore Wind Target Operating Capacity Prospective Capacity
Belgium Reduce emissions by 35% in 2030 compared to 2005 levels.[12] Achieve a renewable energy share of 18.3% by 2030.[12] 6,000 MW by 2030,

8,000 MW by 2040[9]

2,256MW 3,480MW in pre-construction
Denmark Reduce emissions by 70% by 2030,

climate neutrality by 2050.[13]

5,300 MW by 2030,

up to 35,000 MW by 2050[9]

2,292MW 33,841MW announced, 4,773MW in pre-construction, 350MW under construction
France Reduce GHG emissions by 36% in 2030 compared to 2005 levels,

reach carbon neutrality by 2050.[14]

Achieve a renewable energy share of total consumption by 32% in 2030.[14] 2,100 MW by 2030,

4,600-17,000 MW by 2050 (includes offshore wind in the Eastern Channel)[9]

515.4MW 4,510MW announced, 3,142MW in pre-construction, 2,519MW under construction
Germany Reduce GHG emissions by 38% relative to 2005 levels, by 2030.[15] Renewable energy comprises 30% of end-use consumption by 2030.[15] 26,400 MW by 2030,

66,000 MW by 2045[9]

8,082MW 2,973 announced, 8,452 in pre-construction, 257MW under construction
Ireland Reduce GHG by 30% compared to 2005 by 2030.[16] 4,500 MW by 2030,

20,000 MW by 2050[9]

25MW 27,330MW announced, 15,956MW in pre-construction
Luxemberg Reduce 55% emissions compared to 2005 levels by 2030 and climate neutrality by 2050.[17][18] Reach 35-37% share of renewable energy by 2030.[17][18]
Netherlands Reduce GHG emissions by 36% compared to 2005 levels, or 49% relative to 1990 by 2030.[19] 27-35% renewable energy share by 2030.[19] 22,500 MW[9][20] 3,687MW 13,760MW announced, 7,130MW in pre-construction, 1,591 under construction
Norway Reduce GHG emissions by 55% by 2030, relative to 1990 levels.[21] 3,000 MW by 2030 (including 1,500 MW of floating wind).

The government also committed to studying the feasibility of deploying 50,000 MW by 2040 and 72,000 MW by 2050.[9]

138MW 5,500MW announced, 1,710MW in pre-construction
Sweden Net zero by 2045.[22] 188MW 24,300MW announced, 69,044MW in pre-construction
United Kingdom Reduce domestic GHG emissions by 37%, 51%, and 57% compared to 2005 levels across 2018-2022, 2023-2027, and 2028-2032, respectively.[23] 50,000 MW by 2030 (including up to 5,000 MW floating wind).[9] 13,653MW 44,360MW announced, 58,191MW in pre-construction, 8,886MW under construction. Like the United States, the United Kingdom’s offshore wind industry has hit recent roadblocks with the country’s 2023 offshore wind tender not receiving a single bid.[24]

North Sea Offshore Wind Projects

The European Union’s strategy for offshore renewable energy emphasizes the need to focus on multipurpose approaches to planning, which member nations are already piloting. For example, countries including Belgium, Germany, Spain, France, the Netherlands, and Portugal have paired offshore wind and aquaculture for demonstration projects.[25]

In the near term (through 2024), offshore wind development in Europe is expected to stay at approximately 3.7 GW installed per year. This is largely due to the fact that markets are well-established, particularly in Germany, Denmark, and Belgium. After 2025, projects resulting from the German Round 1 Auction for utility-scale offshore wind projects will come online.[26]

Offshore wind farms in the North Sea with capacities above 2,000 MW:

Project Nameplate Capacity (MW) Status
Berwick Bank wind farm 4,100
  • Pre-Construction
Dogger Bank wind farm 4,920[27]
  • Phase A: Construction
  • Phase B: Construction
  • Phase C: Construction
  • Phase D: Pre-Construction
Hochtief wind farm 2,700
  • Pre-Construction
Hornsea wind farm 7,500[27]
  • Phase 1: Operational
  • Phase 2: Construction
  • Phase 3: Pre-Construction
  • Phase 4: Pre-Construction
Ludwigshafen wind farm 2,000
  • Announced
Mareld wind farm 2,300
  • Pre-Construction

North Sea Energy Island Project

The government of Denmark has agreed to build two energy islands with a minimum capacity of 4 GW. To achieve its goal of climate neutrality by 2050, the Danish government intends to convert low-carbon electricity from the energy islands to green hydrogen to be processed into fuels. Strategic partnerships have been made with Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg.[28] [3]

The tender was expected to launch in spring 2023 but was postponed by the Danish government due to the high cost of the project. According to the Danish Ministry of Climate, Energy, and Utilities, the project "...turned out to cost above 50 billion, which is far from living up to the political requirement of profitability. Before the government initiates a public tender, it must be analyzed if there is a better or cheaper way to realize the concept."[29]

Potential impacts from offshore wind expansion

A study published in 2023 indicated a decrease in the population of red-throated loons in the North Sea after the installation of 14 wind farms. Population numbers within a 1-km radius of the farm have dropped by as much as 94%.[30] Offshore wind control stations are able to alter farm output and turbine speeds during times of seabird migration. While this initiative was attempted for the first time 2023, it is a measure that farms around the globe expect to undertake to minimize impacts on wildlife.[31]

Offshore wind farms also pose collision risks for mariners navigating nearby waters. For example, in 2022, a cargo ship collided with a substation foundation under construction off the coast of the Netherlands. No injuries were reported.[32] Similarly, in April 2023, the Gode Wind 1 wind farm took one turbine out of service following a collision with a cargo ship.[33]

Additionally, recent reports have indicated that foreign adversaries are mapping offshore wind farms and key communication infrastructure in the North Sea. As such, decision-makers are determining the best mechanisms for increased monitoring to ensure security.[34] To combat this, in April 2024, six North Sea nations agreed to increase coordination on protecting underwater energy and telecommunication infrastructure, such as undersea transmission cables.[35]

Currently, the United Kingdom’s Crown Estate and the Dutch-led Royal Sea Programme are collaborating to collect and collate international datasets related to seabed biodiversity in the North Sea. This data will be critical to ensuring local ecosystems and biodiversity receive net benefits in offshore wind development.[26]

Power-to-X for green hydrogen production

North Sea Wind Power Hub Programme's 2030 scenario[36]
North Sea Wind Power Hub Programme's 2050 scenario[36]

Power-to-X means converting electricity to another energy carrier, including hydrogen, synthetic fuels, and chemicals. Producing hydrogen via electrolysis can be done offshore, in which case salt needs to be removed from the seawater through a desalination process. Through a combination of elements, electrolysis supports a larger and more useful rollout of offshore wind generation compared to a situation without electrolysis. [37]

The scenarios are developed by the North Sea Wind Power Hub. While the 2030 scenario includes just Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands in an integrated system, the 2050 scenario includes Belgium, Norway, and the UK as well. Through the interconnected hubs, the corridors continuously bring electricity to shore in any country, no matter where the wind turbines generate it.[38]

Fossil Fuels in the North Sea

Fossil Resources and Retirement

Across the region, 43,977 MW of fossil fuel projects have been cancelled, 5,661 MW have been mothballed, 73,244 MW have been retired, and 11,070 MW have been shelved. Of North Sea countries, the United Kingdom has retired the greatest mega-wattage of fossil fuel generation at 30,777 MW retired, followed by Germany with 25,480 MW retired.[39][40] In addition, North Sea nations have a total of 465 discovered, in-development, and operating gas and oil&gas fields, of which 59% fall under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom, 22% are in the Netherlands, and 16% are in Norway.[41]

According to the report Hooked on Hydrocarbons by Global Energy Monitor, oil and gas production from existing North Sea fields is expected to decline between now and 2050. Dwindling production due to aging fields and the lack of large discoveries is not rapid enough to be compatible with limiting warming to 1.5C. The UK will host new licensing round for oil and gas exploration while neighboring countries have sworn off oil and gas exploration. Supermajors such as Shell, BP, and Total have plans to start up new fields in the UK North Sea, along with independent oil and gas companies. It is a myth that extracting more North Sea gas lowers prices, and the Climate Change Committee agrees UK Reserves are too small to meaningfully impact the prices faced by UK consumers. According to industry, domestic hydrocarbon production will reduce reliance on imports from Russia and OPEC countries, and oil and gas produced in the UK is less carbon intensive than gas produced elsewhere. However, the vast majority (77% in 2021) of gas imports to the UK come from Norway, as do nearly 50% of crude oil imports. While the UK has lower oil and gas emissions intensities than the global average, emissions are higher in the UK than in Norway. Without new exploration and licensing of fields, absolute imports of both oil and gas would still decline significantly.[42]

In 2021, North Sea nations imported significant quantities of fossil fuels from Russia. According to the International Energy Agency, the countries most reliant on Russian energy were Belgium (25.6% of total domestic fossil fuel consumption), Denmark (9.8%), France (6.2%), Germany (31.1%), and the United Kingdom (4.9%).[43]

In July 2023, the government of the United Kingdom announced plans to expand oil and gas exploration and drilling in the North Sea, alongside plans to build two new carbon capture and storage sites in the area by 2030.[2]

Denmark is the largest oil-producing country in the world to establish a phaseout date for fossil fuel production, with the country aiming to shut down fossil fuel operations entirely by 2050. This is a major step towards Denmark's climate neutrality goals and includes cancelling future licensing rounds, ending fossil fuel exploration, and establishing rules for ensuring economic and energy stability.[44]

Oil and Gas Units in North Sea. Global Oil and Gas Extraction Tracker, Global Energy Monitor, July-2023.

Overview of current fossil fuel impacts

The 20 largest fields expected to reach financial investment decisions (FID) or receive development consent in the next three years could produce over 920 MtCo2e, more than most countries in the world produce annually. Exploiting reserves could yield 7,602 MtCo2, significantly more than the sum of the UK's legally binding carbon budgets for 2023-2037: 4,640 MtCo2e.[42]

Many North Sea and North Sea-adjacent countries rely heavily on fossil fuel imports to meet their current energy needs. For example, in 2021, Ireland imported 100% of the oil and 71% of the natural gas needed to meet demand.[45] Also in 2021, the United Kingdom imported £19.6 billion of gas, up from £4.8 billion in 2020.[46]

These offshore activities have three distinct ecological impacts identified by Uplift and Oceana:[47]

  • Noise pollution from seismic blasts, which especially harms whales and other cetaceans that rely on echolocation.
  • Seabed damage, and subsequent damage to benthic organisms, through the installation of platforms.
  • Chemical pollution through leaks and spills which discharge into nearby seawater.

Importantly, offshore wind development may (but not always) include activities that create noise pollution and seabed damage through piledriving for fixed-bottom foundations, though countries in the North Sea may employ marine mammal observers to halt construction when vulnerable species are nearby.[48]

Land Availability

The North Sea is a heavily-traversed region with many coexisting ocean uses. According to the 2019 report, Cost Evaluation of North Sea Offshore Wind Power 2030, shipping, military exercises, fisheries, sand mining, and oil and gas developments take up the vast majority of space considered viable for fixed-bottom offshore wind development (less than 55 meters deep), with only 3% of space, or 14,000 square kilometers, available for offshore wind farms. Depending on power density of future projects, the remaining space may generate between 47-84 GW of power.[49]

Existing ocean uses in the North Sea, according to the report Cost Evaluation of North Sea Offshore Wind Post 2030.

In 2022, the Spatial study North Seas 2030 – offshore wind development showed spacial uses from fisheries, shipping, military activities, and areas of ecological hot spots, overlaid with planned offshore wind farms (OWF) by 2030. There are two potential conflicts spots (C1 and C2, see map below) identified:[50]

Quoted from report:"Hotspot C1 and C2: constraints for multiple marine uses." Source: Spatial study North Seas 2030 – offshore wind development, North Seas Energy Cooperation(NSEC), 2-Nov-2022

The potential conflicts separated by spatial users from the report are summarized below:

The potential ecologically sensitive areas in the North Sea region Source: Spatial study North Seas 2030 – offshore wind development, North Seas Energy Cooperation (NSEC), 2-Nov-2022
  • Ecology: The ecologically sensitive areas that the report included are Marine Protected Areas, Natura 2000 areas, and main migration routes. By overlaying the data, the report identified four hotspots. Quoted from report, the map on the left side shows: "E1: The area northeast of the English Channel: barrier for migrating birds and marine mammals; E2: Ecologically valuable areas that might be affected by landfall cables (new grid); E3: Areas with potential stratification issues (large-scale wind energy development can influence the stratification of the water column and thus affect the whole ecosystem); E4: Areas with potential conflicts for seabirds (concern for breeding colonies and key areas during other seasons)."
  • Fisheries: Two fishing activities are difficult to coexist with offshore wind facilities, which are "demersal fisheries" and "pelagic fisheries" with towed gear. These two fishing practices are generally not allowed near offshore wind farms or require high-cost insurance. Other impacts included the increase of expenditures of fishing around offshore wind facilities due to longer steaming time, less catch from one fishing trip, and higher risks of collisions from building and management ships of offshore wind crew and the fishing vessels.[50]
  • Shipping: There is no shipping lane overlapping with the offshore wind projects due to the obligation to regulations from the national and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in the Marine Spatial Plan (MSP). However, there are still potential conflicts in two hot spots identified in the North Sea, which will increase after 2030. The risks included ship collision with ship or wind farms.[50]
  • Military: No hot spot of conflict zones is identified from the report. It's worth noticing that the spatial data of military zones are not comprehensive since some data are confidential. Some potential risks may be collisions from military submarines or aircraft to wind farms or disturbing primary surveillance radar due to the rotating turbines.[50]


Current transmission resources


TenneT is a transmission system operator in the Netherlands and a significant part of Germany, supporting transmitting electricity to 42 million households and businesses. Officially started in 2010, TenneT is the first cross-country transmission operator in Europe.[51]

In 2022, TenneT has transmitted around 29 TWh from the Netherlands and the German North Sea. Approximately 21.13 TWh of wind energy is from the German North Sea. In the Netherlands, 7.91 TWh was transmitted into the grid. TenneT's offshore grid connections have a total capacity of 3,757 MW in the Netherlands. In the German North Sea, the maximum feed-in capacity from offshore wind farms reached 6,255 MW, whereas TenneT's offshore transmission capacity in the German North Sea stands at 7,132 MW.[52]

In 2023, TenneT inaugurated a 900MW high-voltage direct current (HVDC) connection situated 90km offshore in the German North Sea. With this addition, the system operator is now capable of transmitting 8GW of power generated in the German North Sea and 3.5GW from the Dutch North Sea, resulting in a combined offshore wind capacity of 11.5GW.[53]

New transmission needed for renewables

North Sea Wind Power Hub Programme's Hub-and-Spoke Diagram

According to a report from BloombergNEF (BNEF), at least $21.4 trillion needs to be invested in the electricity grid by 2050 to support a net-zero trajectory. This includes $4.1 trillion to sustain the existing grid and $17.3 trillion to expand the grid. BNEF estimates 80 million kilometers in grid growth from 2022-2050, comprising 68 million kilometers of above-ground lines, 12 million kilometers of underground cables, and 0.2 million kilometers of submarine cables.[54]

TenneT currently provides the vital infrastructure for offshore wind power transmission from the Netherlands and German North Sea with capacities of 3.7 GW and 7.1 GW respectively. To scale up its offshore transmission capacity to 40 GW by 2030, TenneT will install 15 to 20 offshore grid connection systems at a cost of 30 billion Euro.[55]

North Sea Wind Power Hub (NSWPH) Programme

The NSWPH consortium was founded in March 2017 and consists of the leading Transmission System Operators (TSOs) of North Sea Countries; Energinet, Gasunie, and TenneT. The future grid is envisioned as a high-capacity connection between Dutch, German, and Danish sites between 2-6 GW. The electricity corridors in the North Sea follow a North-South or East-West direction as they connect offshore wind locations, with potential branches to surrounding countries. This model is called hub-and-spoke.[38] The hub-and-spoke concept will add interconnection and potential electricity conversion, which offers a solution to the challenge of integrating renewable energy. The NSWPH Programme intends to facilitate the realization of a first project in the early 2030s. Climate policy is largely national, decoupled between energy sectors, and incremental. The NSWPH is transnational, integrated, and a step-change to a massive buildout of offshore wind in the North Sea. The hub-and-spoke concept is able to link together the energy systems of North-West Europe in one well-planned and coordinated network while connecting large amounts of offshore wind.[56]

Sketch map of North Sea Wind Power Hub[57]

What is the "Hub-and-Spoke" concept?: Traditionally, separate electrical connections were used to connect wind farms to shore on the one hand (wind farm transmission) and to connect countries to each other on the other hand (interconnection). In a hybrid project such as the proposed hub-and-spoke, there are electrical connections from the wind farm to multiple countries. This combines the two functions and the connections are used more efficiently.[37]

The hub-and-spoke concept increases connectivity, which can reduce supply and demand mismatch, as well as improve security and reliability. This is because the concept allows for different combinations of energy carriers, infrastructural components, and end-use sectors, ultimately increasing flexibility. Because hub-and-spoke allows for different combinations of sectors and functionalities, a new approach to determining cost-benefit analysis will be required to understand the full benefits of the model.[6]

Most offshore wind projects in operation today are connected to the coast via an alternating current, which limits the distance that projects can be from the shore. Direct current electrical connections, which the hub-and-spoke model utilizes, may allow for further offshore wind sites.[6]

Cable locations for offshore wind projects

Recent joint initiatives in the development of a meshed/optimised grid, Spatial study North Seas 2030 – offshore wind development report, commissioned by North Seas Energy Cooperation (NSEC), 3-Nov-2022

The map at the left sourced from the Spatial study North Seas 2030 – offshore wind development showed the developing cable connections for offshore wind projects. The company and the project's name are shown below with corresponding map numbers:[50]

1) Greenlink (IE & WSL)

2) Celtic (FR & IE)

3) NorthConnect Easternlink (SCO & NO)

4) CMS & Maali Link (NO)

5) Nordlink (NO & DE)

6) North Sea DK Energy Island

7) NeuConnect (DE & GB)


9) Interconnector Danish Energy Island and Belgium Energy Island

10) WindConnector (UK & NL)

11) Nautilus Link (UK & BE)

12) Energy Island Belgium

These developments for cable connections are expected to be finished by 2030.[50]

Other proposed cable links include LionLink from the UK and the Netherlands, and North Sea Link (NSL) from Norway and the UK.

LionLink: The North Sea has been Europe’s main source of domestically-produced oil and natural gas. The new vision is to make the sea a key location for renewable energy shared among nearby nations. The UK and Netherlands want to invest in an undersea electric cable called LionLink, connecting a Dutch wind farm and Britain that would share surplus electricity with places that are temporarily short of it. It would also permit other sharing of electrical power. The developers would be Britain’s National Grid and TenneT in the Netherlands.[58]

North Sea Link (NSL): A joint venture with Norwegian Statnett and the UK’s National Grid Group. It stretches 729 km under the North Sea, at depths up to 700 m. NSL is capable of sharing up to 1400 MW of electricity, enough to power around 1.4 million UK homes. National Grid already has links connecting the UK to energy systems of Belgium, France, and the Netherlands. By 2024, National Grid will operate enough interconnector capacity to power around 8 million UK homes.[59]

Social and environmental impacts of new transmission

The expansion of the electricity grid will strain supply chains. Copper demand is expected to reach 13 million tons by 2030 and 23 million tons in 2050. Currently that number stands at 5 million tons.[54]

Unlike telecommunications cables, undersea power cables tend to be buried for protection, which increases the environmental impact. Trenching or burying cable disrupts the seabed, and the injection of a current creates electromagnetic fields that interfere with natural magnetic fields. This may impact organisms that follow natural magnetic fields for navigation, though research on the extent to which individuals are affected is actively being researched.[60]


According to Global Energy Monitor's Global Coal Mine Tracker, coal mines across North Sea countries employ 10,318 workers.[61] According to Wind Europe, approximately 62,000 workers across the European Union are employed in the offshore wind industry.[62]

In 2023, IRENA's report showed that employment in offshore and onshore wind sectors in the European Union was 319,000.[63] The below list shows the offshore wind employment of countries in the North Seas Energy Cooperation (NSEC):

  • France: 6,200 jobs from the offshore sector. In March 2022, the government and industry made an offshore wind pact (Pacte éolien en mer) to create 20,000 offshore jobs by 2035, with a view to achieving at least 50% local content.[63]
  • United Kingdom: Data from the Offshore Wind Industry Council (OWIC) indicates that in 2022, there were 32,257 jobs, comprising 17,400 direct and 14,900 indirect positions. This figure marked a 4% increase from the previous year. 29% of the UK’s offshore wind workforce is in Scotland, followed by Yorkshire and Humber (16.4%), London (15.2%), and the North East and North West regions of England (about 11% each). OWIC anticipates that employment could surge to 88,500 by 2026 and reach 104,400 by 2030, provided the installed capacity reaches 50 GW. Among these, approximately 56,300 jobs would be direct, while 48,100 would be indirect.[63]

Supply Chain

In 2019, 93% of installed offshore wind capacity in Europe was made of components produced in Europe. As of 2020, all projects globally utilized technology from European Union member states.[25]

Ports Infrastructure

Map of countries bordering the North Sea with major cities and ports highlighted. More than 50 ports exist across North Sea countries, many of which will support offshore wind development in the region.
North Sea Ports. Source.

Another strength of the North Sea is the ample ports infrastructure which has been, and will continue to be, leveraged for offshore wind development. Many ports across Europe specialize in specific services, such as preassembly, installation, operations and maintenance, storage and production, and shipping of specific components. By 2030, an estimated 16,000 turbines totaling 25 GW will be serviced by ports across the European continent, though specific upgrades may support development, namely expansion of land, reinforcement of quays, and enhancement of deep-sea berths. Approximately EUR 8.5 billion will be required by 2030 to support expansion of offshore wind.[64]

In a recent study commissioned by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, port infrastructure and upgrades are insufficient to meet the NSEC’s goals of 120 GW of offshore wind by 2030 and 300 GW by 2050. Specifically, the study found that an estimated 850 to 1,300 hectares of additional port space is necessary, though planned expansions only total 800 hectares. Moreover, the study found five primary bottlenecks: [65]

  1. Uncertainty about demand for port space
  2. Unfavorable business cases
  3. Technical risk
  4. Competition for space
  5. Mismatched interests: delayed infrastructure development does not directly impact the ports themselves but has major consequences for offshore wind goals


Offshore wind permitting processes depend on the Exclusive Economic Zone that the project falls within.

European Commission: The European Commission, alongside European Parliament and Council of the EU, are working to streamlining permitting in line with the European Union's clean energy targets. Currently, there is a two-year limit for new projects and a one-year limit for repowering projects, though a revised Renewables Directive introduces "renewables acceleration areas" where the limits are reduced to one year and six months, respectively. Additionally, the new Directive provides greater clarity on the permits that developers must seek within that timeline. Members of the EU define these areas within their geographic bounds. The revised Directive was published in 2023, and member states have two years to digitize their respective permitting processes.[66]

Belgium: Following an offshore wind tender, the winning bidder will be awarded the domain concession and permits for constructing and operating the wind farm.[67] At the same time, the winning bidder will also receive other required permits for actions like submarine cabling.[68] Project developers must complete an Environmental Impact Assessment before an environmental permit can be issued.[69]

Denmark: Three licenses are required to develop offshore wind in Danish waters: 1) a license that enables developers to carry our preliminary assessments and investigations, 2) a license to construct turbines, and 3) a license to produce electricity via wind power for a fixed term. All offshore wind projects in Denmark require an Environmental Impact Assessment.[70] The Danish Energy Agency (DEA) serves as a "one-stop-shop" for project developers seeking to build offshore wind projects, meaning the DEA coordinates preparation of relevant licenses and permits with the appropriate agencies and authorities, like the Transmission System operator, Ministry of Environment, Maritime Authority, Ministry of Defence, Coastal Authority, Working Environment Authority, Transport Authority, and Agency of Culture. By doing this, DEA aims to reduce competing interests.[71] According to Denmark's Minister of Energy, as of 2022, permitting for offshore wind in the EU may take as long as nine years.[72]

France: Several permits and consents are required for energy projects in France, namely operating permits, construction permits, and environmental authorizations. An Operation Permit is required for renewable energy developments greater than 50 MW, and these permits are automatically granted to the winning bid of a government tender. Construction permits are merged into the Environmental Authorization for applicable projects. For offshore wind projects, an Environmental Authorization is required along with an authorization for use of maritime public domain, as well as an envelope and occupancy permits. Beyond these permits and consents, a project may also require specific agreements regarding grid access, power plant operation, and balance with consumer demand.[73]

Germany: Germany operates a "one-stop-shop" for offshore wind permitting led by the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH). BSH identifies areas for offshore wind development by 1) investigating Germany's Exclusive Economic Zone, and 2) creating a Site Development Plan encompassing analysis of marine, oceanographic, and seafloor conditions. Public comments are accepted for four weeks after the Plan's publication. Once suitable sites are selected, they are auctioned off to potential developers. The winning bidder must complete an Environmental Impact Assessment (at least eight months before construction begins), a description of the marine environment, a spatial and technical overview report (at least six months before construction begins), array spatial plans (at least two months before construction begins), and an analysis of competing uses. These deliverables must be submitted alongside their application for planning approval. From tender to commissioning an offshore wind farm takes an average of five years.[74]

Ireland: Established in July 2023, the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority (MARA) "facilitates a streamlined consenting process for developers" and provides "a route for developments to the planning system by assessing applications for Maritime Area Consents [MACs]," a permission required for offshore development in Ireland. Mara is also tasked with granting marine licenses, enforcing compliance of MACs and conducting follow-up investigations as needed, administering existing consent portfolios, and fostering collaboration and coordination across relevant regulators.[75] Once a MAC is obtained, a project developer can then seek out planning or development permission from An Bord Pleanála. Potential applicants must enter into pre-application consultations with An Bord Pleanála,[76] followed by scoping and carrying out an Environmental Impact Assessment Report[77] and the full planning permission application.[78] Finally, EirGrid, Ireland's transmission system operators, must issue a Grid Connection Assessment before the project can be connected.[79]

Netherlands: In the Netherlands, offshore wind sites are designated by the national government, and only those areas are available for development. To determine areas of interest, the government undertakes economic, social, and ecological assessments, like Environmental Impact Assessments and local site studies, both of which are made publicly available after completion. Unlike other countries, in the Netherlands, these assessments are not undertaken by the project developer or operator, and those costs are paid by the government. Since planning and installing offshore an offshore grid network necessary to support offshore wind takes an average of 8 to 10 years, decisions are made as early as possible and often before other permissions and consents are granted. Instead, project operators sign a Realization Agreement and Connection and Transmission Agreement, which lay out terms for interconnection, operations, and information exchange with the transmission system operator. Once the site is finalized, it will receive a Wind Farm Site Decision, followed by a tender. The winner of the tender is immediately granted permirs for constructing, operating, and decommissioning the wind farm.[80] The Government of the Netherlands can be considered a "one-stop-shop" for offshore wind by providing all information and decisions regarding permits.[81]

Norway: Offshore wind farms in Norwegian waters require permits for construction and operation, with the Norwegian Energy and Water Resources Directorate (NVE) establishing appropriate, project-specific mitigation measures that the developer must abide by. The application for a construction license is as follows:[82]

  1. Concept study, describing the project need and alternatives. The study must be quality assured by a third party.
  2. Notify NVE of the preliminary assessment.
  3. First round of public consultation.
  4. NVE assesses the areas in which the applicant needs to investigate further.
  5. The applicant needs to submit another application alongside the environmental impact statement.
  6. Second round of public consultation.
  7. Any recommendations about further investigation that NVE have are sent to the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy.
  8. The King of Norway, in the Council of Ministers, makes a final decision.

Projects greater than 10 MW in size must submit an extensive environmental impact statement. Additionally, spatial impact assessments must look into potential impacts on local, regional, and national spatial planning, as well as protected areas, proposed protected areas, and particularly valuable areas. The Government of Norway also recommends considering the impacts of construction and cabling on fisheries and aquaculture. Finally, applicants must obtain a license for foreign electricity trade when exported. Given that the transmission hub will likely fall closer to the Danish or Dutch coasts, permitting on the Norwegian side will not be affected by final decision-making.[82]

United Kingdom: To initiate project development, an applicant must meet pre-qualification standards, which establish financial and technical criteria that the project applicant must meet in order to continue development. Once pre-qualifications are met, applicants will receive an Invitation to Tender where the developer's bid is assessed against several criteria like capacity limits and financial analyses before a seabed lease is granted. No construction may begin until the pre-qualification and tender criteria are met. Additional assessments include feasibility studies, site selection and design considerations, environmental sensitivity evaluations, and procurement and baseline surveys Depending on the project, licenses may be required for undersea cables and crossing and proximity agreements. Marine licenses must also be acquired for construction, dredging, and other processes required for laying cable, and these licenses follow a seven step acquisition process: allocation, technical assessment, consultations, review, decision recommendation and approval, application completion, and monitoring (ongoing).[83]

In 2023, the United Kingdom's National Infrastructure Commission initiated a study on infrastructure planning with a focus on the time-intensive permitting and consultations processes that large-scale projects like offshore wind require. The final product will lay out recommendations for accelerating consent processes to allow for the speedy deployment of major infrastructure projects. The current process is called the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) system, which has already decreased the time required to receive approvals (for example, the Sizewell B nuclear power station required seven years for approval, whereas the Norfolk Boreas offshore wind farm took only two and a half years). Despite that, Development Consent Orders for offshore wind projects can take up to four years to receive.[84]

Supportive infrastructure projects, like suitable ports, must be rapidly developed to enable offshore wind development. As such, permitting for these projects must be streamlined.[85]

Governmental Information

Related government papers or policies

The REPower EU Action Plan outlines the European Union's plans for increasing energy efficiency and renewable energy. It increases the EU's renewable energy target to 45% by 2030 (up from 40%) and outlines specific strategies for rolling out solar PV, rooftop solar, heat pumps, and other technologies needed to rapidly decarbonize the continent. Notably, it also aims to accelerate and streamline permitting for renewable projects and grid infrastructural improvements.[86] It will also require massive investments in offshore grid infrastructure, port facilities, and vessels.[87]

North Seas Energy Cooperation (NESC)
The North Seas Energy Cooperation (NSEC) is a consortium of countries, consisting of Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the European Commission, which coordinate the development of offshore energy and associated grid infrastructure.[88]

The NESC has made several commitments moving toward a more sustainable and resilient European energy system. At a meeting hosted in April 2023, nine countries signed the Ostend Declaration, which updated offshore wind development targets (see Port of Ostend Summit, Belgium 2023 below). October 2023 saw the creation of a European Wind Power Action Plan, which aims to "ensure that the clean energy transition goes hand-in-hand with industrial competitiveness and that wind power continues to be a European success story." To do this, the Action Plan lays out six primary activities: 1) accelerate deployment by streamlining permitting, 2) improve auction designs, 3) increase access to finance, 4) create a fair a competitive international market, 5) capacity and skill-building in support of renewable energy, and 6) facilitate engagement between Member States and industry representatives.[89] In November of the same year, members of the NESC agreed on a shared Action Agenda, which is intended to bolser European supply chains, move toward an integrate energy system by 2050, and create balance between energy needs and environmental stewardship in the North Sea.[90]

North Sea Summit, Denmark 2022
Held in Esbjerg in response to the war in Ukraine, Denmark, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands established the North Sea Coalition and committed to quadrupling their combined offshore power generation capacity.[91]

The Esbjerg Declaration was created to help pave the way for making the North Sea a green power plant for Europe as well as a major contributor to climate neutrality and strengthening energy security.[10] The Declaration created a target of combined offshore wind capacity of at least 65 GW by 2030, and 150 GW by 2050. Targets also include the production of 20 GW of green hydrogen by 2030.[92]

Port of Ostend Summit, Belgium 2023
Leaders from the North Sea countries coordinate actions to combat dependence on Russian gas and fossil fuels by expanding offshore wind farms in the North Sea.[91] The green energy development area is to include the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish and Celtic Seas. The need to diversify sources of critical raw materials for wind turbines was discussed. NATO and the European Union are to increase the security of offshore and underwater infrastructure.[10]

Moreover, the Ostend Declaration was signed by representatives from Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United Kingdom and committed each nation to collaborate to develop offshore wind and supporting infrastructure. In total, the Declaration commits signatories to collectively developing 120,000 MW of offshore wind by 2030 and 300,000 MW by 2050.[9]


Major owners of current fossil capacity

Major owners of fossil fuel generation in North Sea countries include Drax Group (15 projects), E.On (59 projects), EDF Group (59 projects), Electricity Supply Board (18 projects), EnBW (35 projects), Energeticky (32 projects), Engie (66 projects), Fortum Oyj (28 projects), Iberdrola (17 projects), KSBG (24 projects), RWE (127 projects), SSE (28 projects), Stadtwerke (47 projects), Uniper (25 projects), and Vattenfall (50 projects).[39][40]

Major owners of prospective renewables

Major owners of existing and in-development offshore wind projects include EDF Renewables (eight projects), ESP Group (nine projects), Ørsted (ten projects), RWE (14 projects), SSE Renewables (13 projects), and Vattenfall (14 projects).[8]


TenneT currently provides the vital infrastructure for offshore wind power transmission from the Netherlands and German North Sea with capacities of 3.7 GW and 7.1 GW respectively. To scale up its offshore transmission capacity to 40 GW by 2030, TenneT will install 15 to 20 offshore grid connection systems at a cost of 30 billion euros.[55]

Ørsted A/S

Ørsted has installed approximately 7.5 GW of offshore wind power in the North Sea region covering Denmark, the UK, the Netherlands, and Germany. This is enough to supply green energy to more than 7 million households. Ørsted is constructing a further approximate 2.5 GW of offshore wind power in the UK and German areas of the North Sea.[3]


Offshore wind is largely driven by market forces, technological innovation, and pricing, though governmental involvement will be required to create a supportive financing and policy landscape for the industry.[93] From the U.S. Department of Energy's Offshore Wind Market Report (2023):

"Financing for offshore wind energy projects in Europe has become more favorable since the mid-2000s, as demonstrated by the growing debt share and decrease in the pricing premium over the benchmark London Inter-Bank Offered Rate (LIBOR) and Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) interest rates. Notably, during 2021 the LIBOR/SOFR interest base rates increased by more than 4%, which has significantly increased the cost of financing for offshore wind (and all other energy assets)."[94]

The cost of offshore wind has come down significantly in the last decade. As of 2021, offshore wind reached an estimated 10-50 €/MWh in Germany and the Netherlands and an estimated 10-50 £/MWh in the United Kingdom.[6]

Potential providers of wind finance

Public Finance

The existing project pipeline in the North Sea has already received financing. In the last twenty years, the European Investment Bank (EIB) has provided funding of more than €10 billion to 9 GW-worth of projects across the continent, including the North Sea.[95] This figure does not include several large recent grants, such as the €85 million in financing EIB provided to a project in the French Mediterranean[96] (with a guarantee procided by the European Commission's European Fund for Strategic Investments)[97] and the €1.4 billion financing package for Poland's 2.5-GW Baltica offshore wind project.[98] As a multilateral development bank, the EIB primarily provides financing via concessional loans.[99]

In addition, the European Union has several programs and mechanisms in place to support development of offshore renewables. Relevant funding streams include:[25]

  • Horizon Europe Cluster 5: Funding for research and innovation through 2027, with offshore wind as a specific area of focus. The overall budget for Cluster 5 (Energy, Climate Action, and Mobility) is €15.1 billion in the form of grants, with Horizon Europe announcing €163.5 million in available funding in May 2024.[100]
  • EU Innovation Council: Funding for research and innovation, as well as start-up acceleration, through 2027. The overall budget is €10.1 billion in grants and equity financing.
  • Innovation Fund: Funding for scaling up innovation, first-of-its-kind clean technologies through 2030. The overall budget is €38 billion in grants and project development assistance. The Fund is currently supporting the development of next-generation technology, including more powerful turbine generators and floating wind foundations.[101]
  • Connecting Europe Facility (Energy): Funding for sustainable energy projects, specifically cross-border renewables and associated infrastructure, through 2027. The overall budget is €5.83 billion in grants.
  • InvestEU Programme: Funding for the generation, supply, and use of clean energy projects, with a specific focus on capital-intensive projects. Funding is also allocated for grid and infrastructure modernization and deploying floating wind farms. The overall budget is €26.2 billion in the form of budgetary guarantees and project development support.
  • Renewable Energy Financing Mechanism: Funding to support collaboration between countries to facilitate hosting and contributing financially to renewable energy projects. The overall budget is determined each year.

The European Union administers a Just Transition Fund, which provides funding for member states and their territories that may be most negatively impacted by the transition toward clean energy and climate neutrality. The funds support the upskilling and reskilling of local workforces, investments in small- and medium-sized enterprises, creation of new firms, research and innovation, environmental rehabilitation, clean energy, job-search assistance, and transformation of existing carbon-intensive installations.[102] The Fund primarily provides grants with necessary loans administered by the EIB.[103][104]

Several North Sea countries have received grants from the Just Transition Fund: Ireland (€84.5 million),[105] Belgium (€182.6 million),[106] Denmark (€89 million),[107] France (~€1 billion),[108] Germany (€2.5 billion),[109] and the Netherlands (€623 million).[110]

Articles and Resources

Related GEM articles

North Sea Interconnector

Central North Sea Electrification floating wind farm

Norway and fossil gas


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