As the place where the energy transition will take shape, the North Sea is attracting much attention from the whole world. For the time being, this is mainly because of the construction of wind farms, but attention is also focused on smart hubs at sea that can deliver the produced energy to land in the right quantity, at the right time and in the right form.
Plans which are now appearing on drawing boards include islands and platforms where produced energy can be bundled, enabling power to be transported to land more efficiently in the future, either by cable (electricity) or by pipeline (hydrogen). This could, for example, help to prevent electricity grid overload and provide industry with sustainable energy. In order to determine precisely what is needed, TNO and a range of partners have investigated the feasibility of a multifunctional energy island in the North Sea.
Read the report about the IJvergas project
What are energy islands and are there alternatives?
The creation of hubs at sea is important for the smart distribution of produced renewable energy to countries around the North Sea. This can be done by constructing energy islands, which are interesting for Dutch offshore companies that have a lot of experience in creating land at sea.
An alternative is to make use of (existing) large offshore platforms. In the coming years, knowledge and experience will need to be gained in order to determine where and when these offshore hubs can be developed and what type of construction is most suitable for the North Sea.
Results of the project
Result of the IJvergas Energy Islands research project: onshore and offshore hydrogen production do not vary significantly. The TKI project IJvergas has investigated the feasibility of a multifunctional energy island in the IJmuiden Ver wind area.
The study primarily identified the technical-economic feasibility, but also provided insights into aspects related to legislation and regulations, policy, ecology, international coordination and alignment of the interests of various stakeholders. From an economic perspective, the results show that onshore and offshore hydrogen production do not vary significantly from each other, although further increases in scale and distance from the coast could change this picture.
Additionally, economic considerations are not the only considerations for the roll-out of our future offshore energy system. In order to be ready for the future, an energy island in the IJmuiden Ver wind area could be an interesting location when it comes to applying offshore innovations to strengthen our leading position and reduce costs.
TNO is leading this offshore energy transition via the North Sea Energy programme, together with some 30 internationally operating offshore companies, wind producers, oil & gas companies, grid managers, ports and knowledge institutions. An increasing number of international organisations and companies are also getting involved, including Equinor from Norway and the Crown Estate from the UK.
Innovation opportunities for the Netherlands in capital, knowledge and skills
An additional advantage is that part of the existing oil and gas infrastructure, such as pipelines, can be reused for this purpose. This infrastructure will become available in the coming decades as fossil energy production at sea is phased out. Furthermore, the electrolysis process to produce hydrogen from seawater is expected to become much cheaper.
Sometime shortly after 2030, all of the lines will come together to create sustainable energy hubs in the North Sea. Dozens of commercial parties – together with TNO and other knowledge institutions – are forming a powerful coalition to turn these plans into reality.
Earlier this year, Denmark proudly announced plans for its own energy islands: a new island in the North Sea and an existing one (Bornholm) in the Baltic Sea. Germany has similar ideas for Helgoland, some 80 kilometres north-west of the Elbe estuary. Scotland has turned its attention to the Orkney Islands, while the English and Norwegians are also looking into the matter. It seems that the North Sea countries surrounding us are making great strides.
Despite all this movement in the countries around us, the Netherlands is still leading the way in the development of initiatives on the offshore energy transition. Via the North Sea Energy programme, for example, TNO has been working for years on new concepts and incentives for producing, converting, storing and transporting energy on the North Sea.
Projects and future initiatives
In addition to research by TNO on energy islands in the IJvergas project, the consortium led by TNO is working with PosHYdon on an initial pilot project on a production platform. An electrolysis set-up will be developed off the coast near The Hague, using seawater and wind energy to produce green hydrogen that will be transported to land via existing gas pipes.
But this is not the only initiative that will help us to prepare for this new situation in the time between now and 2030. Many pilots are needed because there are still plenty of barriers to overcome, such as in the area of regulations (who will be the owner of such an island, under which administrative authority?), financing (the government will have to be an important party no matter what, but what role will private parties play?) and ecology (artificial islands disrupt nature, both positively and negatively, the consequences of which must be properly assessed).
The development of energy islands can only be achieved in close collaboration with all stakeholders in the North Sea. In this way, we can collectively achieve a reliable, affordable and sustainable energy supply.