Until recently, development of offshore grid infrastructure has often been managed on a project-by-project basis, with wind farms connecting to one onshore point, and subsea interconnectors usually connecting two markets – and little coordinated long-term planning.
Change is coming
The good news is this is starting to change. Selected offshore wind farms in the future will be connecting with more than one national grid, and more countries are seeking to combine interconnectors with offshore wind farms and other island-based generation or consumption.
Energy islands – some of the largest energy infrastructure ever constructed and a key stepping stone for the energy transition – have been announced already by countries such as Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark.
They will serve as hubs gathering electricity from surrounding wind farms and transmitting it to multiple neighbouring grids.
These ‘offshore hybrid projects’ will evolve and be connected to each other in a coordinated manner to form step-by-step meshed offshore grids in Europe’s seas.
Innovation, regulation and collaboration
The technology to start building these game changing offshore grid solutions exists and must be deployed at scale, with a sense of urgency. To enable meshed offshore grids – while ensuring efficient use of infrastructure and equipment – the systematic deployment of multi-terminal HVDC connections will be needed, with interoperability across vendors.
The next step is a full-scale meshed offshore grid project.
To unlock the full potential of offshore wind, developers need more clarity at both a European and national level to mitigate investment risks associated with accelerating the deployment of offshore hybrid projects. This will also drive anticipatory investments that are necessary to facilitate offshore infrastructure development.
From financing to regulation, technology to planning; a clear governance framework and innovative business models will be essential to help industry stakeholders plan ahead. New and innovative policies and financing models will help address concerns over grid connection delays, supply chain challenges and the need for skilled labour.
To overcome the challenges posed by building multi-terminal systems by multiple vendors and connecting clusters of wind farms to multiple markets to create a meshed grid, the energy industry must come together and operate in a more cohesive manner.
Undoubtedly, coordination and collaboration will be vital to meet the ambitious 2030 targets, and with the right actions, Europe can successfully harness the power of offshore wind and help lead the energy transition.
Gerhard Salge is chief technology officer at Hitachi Energy