WindEurope Offshore 2019: Sector can resist 'unprecedented pressure'

The offshore wind sector has the technology, the skills and the workforce to build volume and help fight climate change, but it is under "unprecedented pressure", Gunnar Groebler told delegates at the WindEurope Offshore 2019 conference and exhibition in Copenhagen.

WindEurope chair Gunnar Groebler at the conference's opening session (pic credit: WindEurope)

The WindEurope chair gave a keynote speech in the conference’s opening session alongside Wind Denmark CEO Jan Hylleberg, Danish energy minister Dan Jørgensen and Frederik, crown prince of Denmark.

He said the sector is capable of deploying 450GW of capacity by 2050, a core element of a European Commission scenario to deliver climate neutrality by mid-century.

A WindEurope report released at the conference concluded meeting this target is possible with the right investments in electricity grids and approach to maritime spatial planning.

"We have the technology, the know-how and the people to achieve 450GW by 2050," Groebler said.

"The offshore wind sector is a strategic technology for Europe. It leads worldwide and we export equipment worth billions of euros a year. It is a golden economic opportunity."

However, Groebler warned the wind power sector is under "unprecedented pressure across Europe".

"We have lost more than 38,000 jobs in Germany alone over the last four years, and we are on the brink of losing global talent and excellence," he said.

Groebler remained positive that offshore wind can continue to grow in Europe, but this would need collaboration between industry and governments.

"In order for us to be successful, we need increased cooperation between countries and continents in maritime spatial planning, onshore and offshore grid build-out and interconnectors," he said.

"Above all, we need a long-term vision."

Danish role

As he welcomed delegates to Copenhagen, Wind Denmark CEO Jan Hylleberg acknowledged Denmark’s role in the history of offshore wind: the first offshore wind project, the 4.95MW Vindeby, was launched in Danish waters in 1991.

When the Danish capital first hosted an offshore wind event in 2005, Denmark accounted for 60% of global capacity. This has now been reduced to less than 20%, Hylleberg said.

"That is a huge success," he said.

"Today, offshore wind is available for everybody and is on its way to being a global technology. We have the skills, the technology and it is cost-competitive. The industry is ready to ramp up globally.

"What’s not to like?"

Royal approval

Denmark's Crown Prince, Frederik, said he had followed offshore wind's growth "for many years" as it became a Danish success story, and attended the recent inauguration ceremony of the Horns Rev 3 project. 

Addressing climate change, Crown Prince Frederik said the world would not stop using cars, or airplanes, or growing cities. However, what the world should do was build smarter cars, and airplanes, and build smarter cities. And offshore wind can be part of the solution. 

History lesson

Giving the final keynote address, Danish energy minister Dan Jørgensen reflected that today’s climate strike movement and the need for an energy transition have parallels in recent European history.

"In 1989, young people took to the streets to protest against the communist regime: to be heard, to have a say, to have a future," he said.

"Now, 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, young people are protesting again, not only in Europe, but  across the world: to be heard, to have a say, to have a future."

"They are sounding the alarm. We owe it to them to listen."

A need to change the energy system and use less fossil fuels has also driven change in his native Denmark, Jørgensen explained, with the oil crisis of the 1970s prompting the government to ban cars on Sundays and traders from illuminating their storefronts.

"Wind power was born out of necessity in Denmark," he said. "People saw it as an opportunity."

He also warned that the green energy transition will have a profound effect on society, and industry and policymakers should work together to make sure this does not increase inequality.

"If it leads to social inequality, it will not be fair and will undermine public support," Jørgensen explained.

"We need to ensure a fair transition. It can be done."