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Offshore Wind Booming in Europe

With the U.S. still struggling to develop its first offshore wind project, other areas of the world are pulling ahead. Way ahead.

With an aggressive focus on offshore development, no country or region is moving at a faster pace than Europe. According to new figures released this week by the European Wind Energy Association, installations increased 51% in 2010. In all, 308 offshore turbines were installed, representing 883 MW of new capacity and €2.6 billion (USD $3.4 billion) in investment. That brings the total installed capacity up to 2,964 MW.

According to EWEA, the 1,136 turbines in the region will produce, on average, 11.5 Terawatt-hours of electricity per year.

The figures from EWEA show the United Kingdom to be European (and world) leader, with a total installed offshore wind capacity of 1,341 Megawatt (MW). The UK is followed by Denmark (854 MW), The Netherlands (249 MW), Belgium (195 MW), Sweden (164 MW), Germany (92 MW), Ireland (25 MW), Finland (26 MW) and Norway with 2.3 MW.

And just this week, Scotland was singled out by the European Commission as being a major future contributor to offshore wind development. The country has 25 percent of the region's estimated offshore wind resource. The wind giant Gamesa said it wants to set up headquarters for its offhshore unit there.

The region could install between 1,000 and 1,500 MW of capacity next year. Assuming financial conditions stay steady, EU officials and EWEA project that up to 40 GW could be installed by 2020.

Ultimately, Europe will need to build out a new grid infrastructure to accommodate the 170 GW of projects expected by 2050. Ministers from 10 countries bordering the North Sea have banded together to plan a high-voltage, direct current supergrid for offshore wind farms; however, it will take a lot of time and resources to complete the project. The full vision won't be completed until 2050.

Still, this new development and planning gives the Europeans a technological and experiential leg up in the offshore wind space.

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