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What are the ‘energy islands’, a revolutionary project against European dependence on Russian gas

In the icy waters of the North Sea, Denmark looks for an alternative to keep warm in its harsh winters. And, also, to end its dependence on gas from Russia — a country that has been receiving sanctions from Europe because of the war in Ukraine.

The government of the Scandinavian country announced last week that it seeks to accelerate the construction of an unprecedented energy project created in 2020: the so-called “energy islands”.

These are mega-constructions composed of sets of wind turbines that will be placed on a kind of artificial island and that will allow Denmark to generate much more energy than that produced by other wind farms in the world.

The Danish government points out that the islands will allow these wind turbines to be placed farther from the coast and the system to distribute energy to multiple countries more efficiently.

This is considered the biggest construction project in the history of Denmark, with an estimated cost of US$ 34 billion . It was scheduled to be completed in 2030, but after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, the Danish government sped up the works.

“Denmark and Europe must free themselves from Russian fossil fuels as soon as possible,” said Climate, Energy and Utilities Minister Dan Jørgensen.

He assured that the energy islands are a “green path” to stop funding Putin’s war with European money, since, in his opinion, the North Sea has enough wind potential to cover the energy needs of millions of European homes. .

“This huge offshore wind potential needs to be tapped and so the Danish government is starting preparations to create additional energy islands alongside those already planned.”

Clean energy

According to official data, almost 49% of the total energy produced by Denmark comes from wind sources. The International Energy Agency estimates that about 16% of the country’s generation currently depends on Russia (in 2016, the share was 34%).

Denmark has a long history of harnessing strong offshore winds to produce electricity: it was the first country in the world to build an offshore wind farm in 1991.

Because of the Climate Act passed by Congress in 2019, Copenhagen has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2030 and being carbon neutral by 2050.

Last December, the government announced that it would close 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 islands 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 “immense wind resources in the North and Baltic Seas”.

“The islands will serve as hubs that can create better connections between the energy generated from offshore wind power and the energy systems in the region around the two seas,” the agency said.

It is estimated that offshore wind turbines around the islands will be able to provide sustainable electricity to at least five million homes.

“Power islands mark the beginning of a new era for generating electricity from offshore wind power,” the agency said.

According to the plan, the first part of the project involves the establishment of an artificial island in the North Sea that will serve as a hub for offshore wind farms providing 3GW of power, with a long-term expansion potential of 10GW.

The other, smaller hub will be located in the Baltic Sea, on the island of Bornholm, and is expected to produce 2 GW of energy.

To produce 1 GW, approximately 3,125 million photovoltaic panels are currently needed, equivalent to the energy of 110 million LED lamps, according to data from the US Department of Energy.

Same but different

The two islands of energy are based on the same fundamental concept, but they will not be identical.

The Baltic Sea hub will be established on an existing island, which means it will be on land: they define it as an “island within an island”.

The North Sea hub will be built on an artificial island, originally planned to be the size of 18 football fields, but redesigned to be three times larger.

As the project is “critical infrastructure” for the country, the government announced that it will control at least 50.1% of the islands and the rest will be with private companies.

The project envisages supplying electricity not only to the Danes, but also to the electricity grids of other neighboring countries.

Professor Jacob Ostergaard of the Technical University of Denmark told the BBC last year that countries such as Belgium, the UK, Germany and the Netherlands could also benefit.

A new concept
Ostergaard notes that the idea of ​​energy islands is a “revolutionary” concept.

“It’s the next big step for the Danish wind turbine industry. We led onshore, then we took the offshore step and now we are taking the next step with energy islands, to keep the Danish industry in a pioneering position”, he says.

Currently, most countries that use wind sources do so through isolated turbine parks, which supply energy directly to the electricity grid.

According to the Danish Energy Agency, with the creation of the islands, wind turbines can be placed further from the coast and distribute the generated electricity to different countries more efficiently.

The islands serve as hubs, or sustainable power plants, that collect electricity from offshore wind farms and distribute it to the electrical grid.

“This allows electricity from an area with a lot of wind resources to be more easily directed to the areas that need it most, while ensuring that the energy generated by the turbines is used as efficiently as possible in terms of electricity demand.”

The project, however, also received a lot of questions, mainly because of its high cost – the highest that Denmark has ever paid for a work.

Local power companies such as Ørsted have also questioned the effectiveness of building an artificial island, a method never before explored.

Another criticism is about the great distance from the islands to the coast, which can make operations difficult, mainly due to weather conditions and the impact on the marine ecosystem.

The possibility of the country completing the work on time or accelerating it, as the Ministry of Energy has already requested, was also questioned due to the size of the project.

Project for Europe
It is unclear at the moment how or where the new islands announced last week by the Danish government will look like, but they said their aim is to contribute to the flow of energy to Europe.

Denmark hopes to discuss the potential expansion of energy islands with representatives from other EU countries on 18 May, when a ministerial meeting will take place in Esbjerg, in the south of the country, on the energy potential of the North Sea.

“The EU needs to become independent from Russian fossil fuels as soon as possible and the best way forward is for European countries to work together to accelerate renewable energy works in the North Sea,” says the Danish energy minister.

Last November, the European Union announced plans to increase the block’s offshore wind capacity by 25 times by 2050 and five times by 2030.

Renewables supply 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.

Source: With Agencies

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