Europe Is Betting Big On Wind Power – Will It Be Enough?

Juan Umbarila
Ambitious targets are being set for offshore wind farms in the North Seas. But climate emergency and energy independence require even more.
Offshore wind farm. Photo by Nicholas Doherty
Offshore wind farm. Photo: Nicholas Doherty | Unsplash

The North Sea Summit 2023 just took place in Ostend, Belgium. There, seven EU countries plus Norway and the UK pledged to jointly develop the North Sea as a green power plant for Europe, mostly through a massive adoption of offshore wind turbines.

This year, five new countries entered the summit, in addition to 2022’s original members Denmark, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The agenda was focused on the need for many more wind turbines on the North Seas in order to get closer to achieving climate goals and stop dependence on Russian gas.

The nine countries are hoping wind-generated electricity from the North Seas to reach 120 Giga Watts by 2030, and 300 GW by 2050, according to Reuters; a big improvement over last year’s summit promise to deliver 65 GW in 2030 and 150 in 2050. The Addition of France, Ireland, Luxemburg, Norway, and the UK to the original group will boost capacity and farming sea area.

This means a massive improvement for the European transition to clean energy, in addition to other efforts like solar. But there is still a great dependency on fossil fuels and a long way to go, and an urgency to go greener faster than it is currently happening.

Urgent Reasons to Boost Wind Power

European countries decrease in gas demand in 2022 vs 2021. Photo:

A day before the North Sea Summit, eight of the leaders from the nine participating countries released a joined statement on the necessity to boost wind power generation in Europe, where they emphasized wind turbines’ importance for the transition: “We need them to reach our climate goals, and to rid ourselves of Russian gas, ensuring a more secure and independent Europe.”

2022 saw a decrease in EU gas demand of 13%, the steepest drop in history, according to the International Energy Agency. This was partly due to not having the steady Russian gas supplies Europe was dependent on, which drove electricity prices to an increase of 35% in comparison to 2021. Europe is paying the price for its overreliance on Russian gas.

But a milder winter also helped to decrease gas consumption, and additions in wind and solar capacity also helped to reduce the crisis of not having Russian Gas. In addition to the summit plans, the Netherlands and the Uk are planning to build Europe’s biggest cross-border electricity link to secure energy independence.

Besides geopolitical conflicts, the global climate crisis is the strongest pressing issue to urgently transition to cleaner energies. According to the latest IPCC synthesis report in March 2023, there is high confidence that every region in the world is to face climate hazards; multiple risks to ecosystems and humans; heat-related human mortality; food, water, and vector-borne diseases, flooding of coastal and low regions, biodiversity loss and more. Green energies are thus needed to avoid, adapt, and mitigate the problems of the climate catastrophe.

Still, A Long Way To Go

Mine in Hambach, Germany. Photo: Chris Münch | Unsplash

Even with future promises and effective implementations, 2022 was “a disappointing year” for wind, in the words of Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo. According to Politico, in 2022 only half of the planned new capacity wind infrastructure went online, and none of the new offshore wind projects reached a final investment decision. Wind Europe also points out that there was a decrease in wind investment from $24 billion in 2021 to $17 billion in 2022, and new wind capacity was the lowest since 2009.

In addition, Europe partly replaced Russian fossil fuels with more fossil fuels from other countries: gas from Norway, Algeria, the US, and Qatar; and even coal from Germany itself, after vowing to phase it out entirely. According to DW’s Planet A research, the EU burnt 7% more coal in 2022 than in 2021.

Change is taking place, but not as fast as needed. Wind power will help the transition take place, but it will not be enough by itself. A multimodal approach is urgently needed combining wind, solar, heat pumps, and more technologies, as well as decreasing demand and using what is available more efficiently.

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