Marine wind energy, or ‘offshore’, is emerging as one of the most favorable energy alternatives to contribute to the decarbonization of the economy. During the first half of 2023, countries around the world added 5.6 GW of offshore wind capacity, reaching 63.2 GW installed in all offshore plants, according to data collected by the World Forum Offshore Wind.
The main world powers that are investing significantly in these offshore wind plants consider that they play a fundamental role in the ecological transition towards cleaner energy sources. Today, China leads in offshore wind capacity, with a current capacity of almost 30 GW, which represents half of the world’s capacity. The largest wind turbines built to date, 16 mW, have been renovated.
In Europe, 6,091 wind turbines had been installed across 122 wind farms for a total of 30,267 GW. From the Center for Regulation in Europe (CERRE) they advocate the simplification of permit obtaining processes, as well as general planning from the Union itself. They also specify that political agreements with neighboring countries are crucial for the development of these objectives, as may be the case of the Ostend Declaration of April 2023.
The difficulties of the ‘fixed offshore’ in Spain
Spain, for its part, is one of the great wind powers in the world. If we talk about onshore wind energy, our country has almost 1,300 wind farms that supply around 30 GW of power, which makes Spain the fourth country in the world with the most installed wind energy, only behind from China, Germany and India. However, despite being a leading country in onshore energy, offshore wind energy is a pending issue in Spain. Of the 30 GW installed in European seas at the end of 2022, only 5 MW belonged to a single wind turbine prototype in Spain, located in the Canary Islands.
There are several reasons that have slowed down the expansion of the sector in Spain. Offshore energy cannot be installed anywhere, since it requires an exhaustive prior study that must check different parameters of each location, such as biodiversity and environmental protection. One of these points is also the depth of the continental shelf. The vast majority of offshore wind farms are anchored directly to the marine subsoil. In Europe, 99.6% of GW (28.2) correspond to this type of installations. THE SPANISH COASTS HAVE A VERY REDUCED CONTINENTAL PLATE, AND BEING A FEW KILOMETERS AWAY FROM THE COAST ONE BETWEEN 3,000 AND 4,000 METERS DEPTH, WHICH MAKES THE FIXED INSTALLATION OF THESE WIND TURBINES IMPOSSIBLE.
Potential and regulation; key factors
This generates a new need for offshore development in Spain: the construction of floating platforms to install wind turbines. It is a technology still in development, with very high installation costs and with very little coverage in the rest of the world. In Europe, only 113 MW are installed with this floating technology, 0.4% of offshore capacity.
This technological challenge is not the only one that the sector in Spain has to overcome. The turbulent political situation this year has delayed the development of regulation in the sector, which was expected for the first half of this year. However, the sector is in luck: on November 7 and 8, the second Offshore Wind Congress was held in the Canary Islands, organized by the Wind Business Association (AEE), where Sara Aagesen, Secretary of State for Energy, announced a procedure are very agile to this regulation. She also stated that they continue “forward in the chain of this great opportunity that offshore wind offers.”
From the AEE they ask that the regulation be developed and maintained “whoever governs governs”, and its president, Juan Diego Díaz, considers that “collaboration between all actors in the sector, public administrations and territories is essential for the development of offshore wind”. Before the end of 2023, the hearing process of the regulatory framework of the sector will begin, which will lay the foundations for the development of this energy in Spain. The Government has estimated the investment needs between 500 and 1,000 million to enhance the entire port infrastructure, in addition to 200 million in aid for R&D until 2023.
The “tractor effect”
From the AEE, they consider that the creation of floating plants “is a disruptive solution, which allows the opening of multiple markets currently unviable due to the depth of their coasts. The bet is strategic and long-term for the country.” To this end, they have prepared the White Paper on the Offshore Wind Industry in Spain, where it is estimated that the offshore wind sector will directly contribute some 6,116 million euros to the GDP between 2025 and 2030. Furthermore, their estimates suggest that the general sector more than 7,500 jobs in the same period.
The White Paper also talks about the so-called “tractor effect”, which would boost different sectors. Offshore wind energy would boost sectors such as naval, the steel and metallurgical industry or professional services. These companies could diversify their current business model, which could generalize numerous jobs.
The estimates made indicate that this “tractor effect” could involve approximately 53,184 people between 2025 and 2050. Regarding the multinationals that are most interested in investing in this energy in Spain, Iberdrola, Rep sol, Siemens Gamesa and Ocean Winds stand out. Other smaller firms such as EnerOcean or X1 Wind could also have weight in the construction of these floating plants. It is estimated that the first functional floating plant will begin operating by 2028.