The European shipping industry: a key enabler to offshore wind

20 May 2020 – Belgium is in the vanguard of wind energy development, having created much offshore wind turbine capacity in recent years. These high-tech, fast-evolving activities are a spin-off of our dredging industry. The Belgian hydraulic engineering industry also invests in another energy of the future: blue energy, i.e. power generated by waves, tides and currents.On this EU Maritime Day, we like to take the occasion together with our European colleagues within ECSA to highlight the activities at sea and promote the sustainable growth of maritime sectors and regions.

The European shipping industry is integral to offshore wind as a clean energy source. The industry looks forward to supporting the growth of offshore wind as expressed in the European Green Deal and expanding European leadership on a global scale.

Today, May 20th, marks European Maritime Day: an occasion to highlight activities at sea and promote the sustainable growth of maritime sectors and regions. One such activity is the production of offshore wind energy, for which Europe is the global leader. European shipowners play a constructive role in advancing the clean energy source in Europe and around the world. In 2018, more than 80% of global installed offshore wind capacity was located in Europe. European shipowners also control 37% of the world’s offshore vessels by gross tonnage and have developed an especially strong reputation for the construction and maintenance of offshore wind parks and related infrastructure.

Supporting European leadershipUp to 18 different types of vessels are involved during the full project life-cycle; used for surveying sites, the installation of foundations, turbines, export and inter-array cables, transportation of personnel and equipment, and eventual site decommissioning. Each activity is specialist and requires significant expertise from vessel crew and on-shore personnel. European shipping companies have played a central role in realising many global offshore wind projects to-date. Of the 5,500 offshore turbines installed globally by mid-2019, a significant share have been installed by European shipping companies. Ensuring and supporting this leadership as the sector grows in Europe and internationally should be a priority of EU policy.

EU Offshore Wind Strategy

Offshore wind has rapidly developed into a cost-competitive energy source and represents a strong opportunity for Europe to reach ambitious climate objectives in line with the Paris Agreement. The European Commission has forecast that for the EU to achieve GHG reductions of net-zero by 2050, deployment of up to 450GW of offshore wind capacity could be required: a steep increase from the 22 GW presently installed in Europe. This transition will not be without challenges. ECSA therefore welcomes the European Commission’s recognition of the growing potential of offshore wind energy in its recent Green Deal Communication and looks forward to a forthcoming strategy on offshore wind as announced alongside the Communication.

Opportunities for Europe

In particular, ECSA emphasises several opportunities to help grow the potential of offshore wind as an opportunity for Europe, including:
• Supporting further innovation in Europe and among European companies via coordinated R&D and EU projects on, for example, floating wind installations;
• Continued EU support in ensuring European shipping companies have access to growing markets globally, including national offshore markets;
• Supporting EU coordination on improving electrical grid connectivity to foster the growth of offshore wind in Europe and its surrounding regions;
• Promoting offshore wind in EU Member State maritime spatial plans, including cross-border cooperation, while ensuring vital co-existence with maritime transport routes, traffic separation schemes, anchorage areas, and port development;
• EU support in IMO-led processes to harmonise rules applicable to vessels and personnel involved in the construction and maintenance of wind farms;
• Encouraging the use of energy-efficient and environmentally friendly vessels serving functions across the full offshore-wind project-life cycle;
• Rewarding the use of vessels that do not emit GHG;
• Emphasis on realising innovative ways to use wind energy such as the production of green hydrogen or other “power to x” technologies (with potential applications as sustainable shipping fuels).

The European offshore wind sector is a technological leader with significant potential to support the growth of offshore wind as a clean energy source in Europe and around the world. The European shipping industry looks forward to playing a constructive role in this global development.