Offshore Wind Booming In Europe – Or Is It?

Usually we see industry groups trying to spin unfavorable data into something positive. But the European Wind Energy Association is doing just the opposite with its latest update on offshore wind development.

A record 1,567 megawatts of new wind power capacity was installed on Europe’s seas in 2013, according the association’s just-released report [PDF]. That pushed total installed capacity to 6,562 MW, enough to provide 0.7 percent of all of the European Union’s electricity. Not bad, right?

ewea europe offshore wind

image via European Wind Energy Association

But scratching beneath the surface, the EWEA said trouble was lurking:

A closer look at what happened in 2013 reveals a slow-down during the year: two-thirds of the new capacity came online in the first six months. With 11 projects now under construction, down from 14 this time last year, market and regulatory stability is critical to bringing forward the 22,000 MW of consented projects across Europe.

BARD offshore wind

One project completed in 2013: 400-megawatt BARD Offshore 1, about 60 miles off Germany in the North Sea. (image via BARD)

The EU is addressing climate change more seriously and aggressively than any big global power, and nothing has really changed on that count. Still, last week’s European Commission decision to forego binding national targets on renewable energy was concerning to renewable energy industries and their advocates. In the United Kingdom, RenewableUK called the decision “a disappointment” and a “missed opportunity.”

No surprise, then, to have the EWEA urging that EU heads of state, meeting in March, step up with some clear commitments. Germany and the U.K., in particular, will be watched closely.

europe offshore wind ewea

Cumulative offshore wind capacity as of the end of 2013 (image via European Wind Energy Association)

Offshore wind’s problem right now is mainly one of high expectations. It’s being counted on to grow to several times its size by 2020 and beyond – but costs that were expected to fall quickly have remained stubbornly high. Meanwhile, subsidies have come under pressure. The result has been a difficulty in finding financing for all the planned projects – an issue that sunk the planned Atlantic Array project  in the U.K., for instance.

The U.K. accounted for more than half Europe’s offshore wind capacity as of the end of 2013, with 3,681 MW. Denmark was next at 1,272 MW, followed by Belgium (571) and Germany (520).

“The unclear political support for offshore wind energy – especially in key offshore wind markets like the UK and Germany – has led to delays to planned projects and fewer new projects being launched. This means installations are likely to plateau until 2015, followed by a decline as from 2016,” Justin Wilkes, Deputy CEO at the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), said in a statement.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.