It is estimated that a sea area of 150,000 square kilometers with a water depth of less than 35 meters could be available for offshore wind – and provide enough power to satisfy all of Europe’s electricity demand. In Europe, offshore wind farms represent just 1.8 percent of current installed wind capacity; however the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) industry target sets out an increase to 13 percent by 2010 and 39 percent by 2020 – a total of 70 GW within 16 years. It is stating a simple truth that the offshore wind industry can challenge the oil and gas sectors on their home territory.Governments have recognized the opportunity. Just over two years ago, Ministers from Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK met in Bergen for the Fifth International Conference of the North Sea. They expressed concern “about the effects that climate change may have on the North Sea ecosystem and the threat it may pose to the population living on the North Sea coasts” and emphasized “the need to develop safe renewable energy solutions”. The Ministerial Declaration prioritized offshore wind energy as having “the potential to make a significant contribution to tackling the problems of climate change.” For the successful implementation of offshore wind energy, however, three key barriers must be tackled. First of all, there are no physical grids present at sea to connect large-scale offshore wind energy. Second, there is a lack of international cooperation over the conducting of Environmental Impact Statements. Thirdly, one of the principal barriers to the full scale exploitation of offshore wind electricity, and also for the creation of a well functioning EU Internal Electricity Market, lies in the way the electricity markets in Europe are operated at present. Strictly organized on a national or regional basis within states, they are breeding grounds for national and regional electricity monopolies or oligopolies. For large-scale offshore wind power, access to sell electricity to several markets is crucial. Cross-border electricity interconnections are also vital for the overall goal of a well functioning Internal Electricity Market. The lack of a transparent European market for electricity is a barrier to the development of offshore wind energy. As the European Commission’s recent Communication on renewables said: “It is important to ensure that the development of offshore wind is not stifled by a false assessment of potential problems”. Governments have successfully solved these types of issues before. The general climate facing offshore wind bears striking similarity to that faced by the planners and policy makers who sought to explore Europe’s offshore natural gas resources. But whilst the boom in the oil and gas reserves of the North Sea is now coming to an end, we have discovered a huge new energy resource that has been there all along, and only waiting for our ability to exploit it. Offshore wind technology is progressing fast, but it needs to do so in tandem with a policy framework as positive as that which promoted the oil and gas sector from the 1960s onwards.Mainstream energy analysis indicates what is at stake for European security of supply. Europe’s energy imports are set to rise from 50 to 70 percent, demand for oil and gas is increasing worldwide and at the same time supply is constrained, with oil and gas reserves concentrated in Russia, the Caspian Sea region and the Middle East. Yet all studies suggest that electricity will continue to play a large role in Europe’s energy future, with half of the projected increase in gas demand coming from electricity. These factors exacerbate the inherent volatility of oil and gas prices, which are inflicting a multi-billion dollar drain on the global economy. A strategy of reliance on imported energy resources at unpredictable prices inevitably requires the assurance of political and economic stability in producer countries – Iraq highlights how big a challenge this is. Stabilizing Europe’s grids to accommodate large amounts of wind electricity from the sea would require far less political capital. For security of supply reasons alone, offshore wind cannot be construed as a fringe affair for a handful of Northern Member States. The Dutch Energy Agency Senter-Novem is correct to say that “Whether you have a coastline is not important. We are talking about deploying one of the major internal energy resources of the EU”. Offshore wind energy is at heart a European matter, and the initiative by the Dutch Presidency to engage the EU 25 and feed into the EU Energy Ministers’ decision-making process is welcomed. Thirty years ago, North Sea oil came to the rescue of a Europe facing an international oil crisis. We are now faced with a different crisis, and we need offshore wind to help solve it. About the author… Corin Millais is Chief Executive Officer of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA).