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European Offshore Wind Sector Holds Steady

With 235 new offshore wind turbines grid-connected and worth approximately €2.4 billion, 2011 was a stable year for the offshore wind industry, according to the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) which has published its annual offshore wind statistics for 2011.

A total power capacity of 866 MW were fully grid connected across nine offshore wind farms over the year, although EWEA figures show this is in fact slightly down on the 2010 numbers of 883 MW installed and connected. However, nine offshore wind farms currently under construction will bring an additional 2375 MW online — increasing the EU's total installed offshore wind power capacity by 62%. These figures compare with 2008's 327 MW and 2009's 584 MW of offshore wind installed.

A total of 1371 offshore turbines have now been grid-connected across the EU, with a total power capacity of 3813 MW in 53 wind farms in 10 European countries.

Mostly in northwestern Europe, new offshore wind farms with a capacity of 5.6 GW are currently under construction in the UK, Germany and Belgium. The majority (87 percent) of all newly installed and grid-connected offshore wind power in 2011 was in British waters.

European companies are currently global leaders, with over 99 percent of the world's installed offshore capacity in European waters. Siemens supplied 80 percent of the MW installed offshore last year while SSE and RWE Innogy were the most active developers and DONG Energy continued to be the most active equity player in offshore wind power, EWEA says.

Areas for growth in offshore wind energy include turbine and turbine component manufacturing as well as substructures, vessels, electrical infrastructure including high voltage subsea cables, and ports.

Over 141 GW of offshore wind energy capacity is built, under construction, consented, or planned in Europe. These new wind farms — representing 35 times more capacity than the just under 4 GW installed today — would provide 13.1 percent of Europe's total electricity production. EWEA's target for installed EU offshore wind power capacity by 2020 is 40 GW, producing approximately 4 percent of the EU's total electricity consumption.

In addition, some 169,000 jobs in the EU offshore wind energy sector are expected to be created by 2020, rising to 300,000 by 2030, according to EWEA's latest analysis.

However, the new report warns that if the offshore wind energy sector's potential is to be fulfilled in Europe, it is imperative that sufficient levels of financing are brought in by investors. Also crucial are the financing and building of offshore power grids in the northern and Baltic seas, which would enable huge amounts of electricity to be transported to consumers.

For the industry itself, there is the risk of a high-voltage subsea cable shortage in the next few years which must be addressed urgently, says the report, as well as a possible shortage of trained workers.

'There is huge developer interest in offshore wind energy across Europe,' observed Arthouros Zervos, president of EWEA. He added: 'Developers, governments and investors realise that offshore wind energy offers the growth and jobs that Europe desperately needs. The offshore wind energy sector can replicate the success of onshore wind technology development, which is now a mainstream source of power competitive with new coal and gas plants, and a major European industry. However, to ensure this happens, EU decision makers need to set ambitious renewable energy targets beyond 2020, invest more in research and develop an offshore grid.'

Commenting on the numbers, Justin Wilkes, policy director of EWEA, says: "The offshore wind sector witnessed a stable market in 2011. Despite the economy-wide financial squeeze, 2011 saw a 40 percent increase on the previous year in offshore non-recourse debt financing, up from €1.46 billion in 2010 to €2.05 billion in 2011."

He concludes: "The strong project pipeline and financial developments highlight the importance of countries continuing to provide and develop stable long-term frameworks for offshore wind power in order to allow the industry to continue its development."

According to an even more recent analysis by EWEA, the EU achieved its 2010 renewable electricity target of 21% of electricity consumption as set out in its 2001 Renewable Electricity Directive.

According to the trade group's analysis of provisional EUROSTAT data, as well as EurObserv'ER and EURELECTRIC figures, in 2010 renewable energies produced between 665 TWh and 673 TWh, hitting the 21% target given that total consumption was around 3115 TWh to 3175 TWh.

If renewable electricity production in the EU continued to grow at the same rate as it did from 2005 to 2010 it would account for 36.4 percent of electricity in 2020 and 51.6 percent in 2030. "The renewable electricity targets set back in 2001 have been realistic as well as effective," said Wilkes.

He added: "The growth achieved in the last five years has been outstanding and if continued would result in over half of the EU's electricity coming from renewables by 2030. A long-term stable framework, underpinned by an ambitious 2030 renewable energy target, is clearly the proven way to ensure Europe meets its climate, competitiveness and energy security goals."

"The growth of renewables between 2005 and 2010 was largely carried by onshore wind. In future the renewables sector will benefit from significant growth in offshore wind and other technologies as they become more mature," he concluded.

EUROSTAT is due to publish definitive 2010 figures in a few months' time.

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