Mega Wind Farm Connected With Artificial Islands 'Technically and Economically Feasible,' European Energy Firm Says

To curb Europe's greenhouse gas emissions, an international consortium has proposed the construction of a vast network of wind farms linked to artificial islands in the North Sea. An assessment of the scheme has now concluded that the idea is workable, boosting hopes that it will soon become a reality.

The original idea for the so-called North Sea Wind Power Hub was to build one large artificial island hub with "spokes" of wind turbines extending outwards from it. However, several studies—conducted over recent months—suggest that constructing up to eight smaller islands will be more effective.

"The main message is that we have looked in detail on how we could facilitate a very large scale roll-out of offshore wind as required to combat climate change," Michael Muller from TenneT—a Dutch energy firm that is backing the consortium—told New Scientist. "And we believe that the concept we present is both technically feasible and economically feasible."

Each island hub would have a series of wind farms featuring large turbines that, in total, could produce enough power for more than 12 million homes. The first of these hubs could potentially be ready by the early 2030s, with the entire project set for completion by 2050, according to the consortium.

"It would be very transformative," Kees van der Leun from Dutch consultancy Navigant—which was involved in the research—told New Scientist. He notes that the scale of the proposed plans is "completely beyond" anything that exists in the North Sea region today.

The "hubs" and "spokes" will then be connected to the energy systems of several European countries that border the North Sea, such as the U.K. Germany and Denmark. In future, the hubs could also be used to support infrastructure that converts electricity into green hydrogen gas, which can be used as a fuel.

The consortium says its aim is to aid Europe's transition to a low-carbon energy system and meet the targets set by the Paris climate agreement.

"The transition of the North Sea countries to a low-carbon society requires swift and massive changes in the energy system," the authors of one the recent assessment reports wrote. "Decarbonizing the energy system requires large-scale offshore wind deployment in the North Sea, at an accelerated deployment rate, to meet the Paris Agreement."

"Desktop studies have demonstrated technical feasibility of the Hub-and-Spoke concept for different locations, sizes and configurations," the authors wrote. "The design allows for a step-by-step roll-out that can adapt to specific local conditions."

The Paris agreement set out a global plan of action to limit global warming to well below 2 C above pre-industrial levels, with 1.5 C being the optimum target. Limiting warming to below the two-degree mark will require net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050.

"The challenge for the energy system is enormous as today's energy use is largely fossil fuel-based resulting in significant carbon emissions, and the renewable energy share in the EU is still below 20 percent," the authors of the report wrote.

"Offshore wind energy has a major potential for cost-efficient decarbonization, as cost levels have declined rapidly evidenced by new offshore wind projects with limited subsidies," they wrote. "However, deployment rates need to accelerate significantly, which requires a stable market framework and collaboration efforts from suppliers, developers and system operators to keep progress."

wind farm, north sea
Wind turbines of the German offshore wind farm "Amrum Bank West" owned by German energy company E.ON are seen near the Heligoland archipelago on the North Sea, on November 4, 2015. TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images
Mega Wind Farm Connected With Artificial Islands 'Technically and Economically Feasible,' European Energy Firm Says | Tech & Science