No wonder Sweden is suddenly keen on the idea of joining NATO. The famously neutral nation is getting ready to park 4.75 gigawatts worth of floating offshore wind turbines in the Baltic Sea, which happens to be the stomping grounds of the Baltic Fleet of the Russian Navy, which is apparently revving up operations in the region. The plot thickens!
More Floating Offshore Wind Turbines For Sweden
IKEA fans, take note: Sweden does not plan building its own floating offshore wind turbines with the help of inscrutable plans and odd sizes of Allen wrench. The turbines will be coming from the Ireland-based renewable energy company Simply Blue Group, in collaboration with the renewable energy consulting firm Wind Sweden.
The turbines will be distributed among two proposed sites. One is the 2-gigawatt Skidbladner Floating Wind Project, situated about 100 kilometers southeast of Stockholm. The other is the Herkules Floating Wind Project about 60 kilometers southeast of the Island of Gotland, which clocks in at 2.75 gigawatts.
Together, the two projects are a giant step up from Sweden’s current operating roster of just 191 megawatts in offshore wind capacity. As catalogued by our friends over at WindPower Monthly, most of that capacity comes from the 110-megawatt Lillgrund project developed by Vattenfall.
What’s Up With Floating Offshore Wind Turbines?
If you’re wondering why floating offshore wind turbines, that’s a good question. Floating turbine technology is relatively new and expenses run higher than conventional monopile or fixed-platform wind farms. However, in deep waters, the only option is to park wind turbines on platforms, secured to the seabed by a tether.
In regions where conventional offshore wind turbines could conflict coastal activity and nature habitats, floating platforms also provide an opportunity to develop wind farms farther from shore.
Simply Blue’s Director of Market Development, Adrian de Andres, explains:
“Floating wind has an important role to play in the Swedish Energy mix as well as Nordpool given it can be located further from shore and therefore its visual impact is significantly reduced. Our project selection has focused on sites that we believe are environmentally friendly and at the same time technically and commercially feasible.”
Simply Blue also expects the cost of floating wind technology to keep falling in the coming years.
Watch That Fleet!
So, this is where things get interesting. Russia’s murderous rampage through Ukraine has upset the global applecart to such a degree that both Sweden and Finland have applied to join NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Now take a look at the proposed locations of the Skidbladner and Herkules offshore wind farms, and in particular note their location in relation to the Russian oblast of Kaliningrad. It’s right down there on the Baltic Sea, surrounded by Lithuania and Poland.
Kaliningrad Oblast really is part of Russia, even though the map looks otherwise. Back in the days of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, that part of the map was contiguous with the rest of Russia. The breakup of the USSR left it dangling all by itself on the shores of the Baltic Sea, where it lays claim to being the one and only year-round ice-free seaport in all of Russia.
All of this makes Kaliningrad Oblast, and the port city of Baltiysk — home to much of the Baltic Fleet — a leading military asset for Russia.
Kaliningrad Oblast is set to widen its lead in the coming months. Earlier this week the Russian state news agency TASS made it known that the Baltic Fleet is getting a makeover, with new warships and more than 30 different exercises planned for later this year, including some apparently located far from the coast.
Offshore Wind & The New Energy Battle
We bring this up about the Baltic Fleet because Russia has secured a reputation for itself as an energy resource-grabber through its actions in Ukraine ranging back to its annexation of Crimea, which enables access to Black Sea oil and gas reserves, along with its efforts to foster separation of the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, which sits on the third-largest known shale gas reserve in Europe.
Russia is probably not laying plans to hijack all the floating offshore wind turbines it can find in the Baltic Sea. However, it could gain leverage over European energy markets by interfering with the development of offshore wind farms in the Baltic Sea.
That would have significant implications beyond Sweden, impacting other Baltic states and the rest of the EU.
In 2019 the organization WindEurope noted that the Baltic Sea accounted for just 2 gigawatts in offshore wind, out of a total of 20 gigawatts in offshore wind for all of Europe. “With the right ambitions from Governments and intensified regional cooperation, this could increase to more than 14 GW” in the near term, WindEurope surmised, with a scenario of 85 gigawatts by 2050.
“This would make the Baltic Sea the second-largest basin for offshore wind in Europe, after the North Sea,” WindEurope added. “The cumulative potential capacity identified in the Baltic Sea by the European Commission (BEMIP Final Report, 2019) exceeds 93 GW, with a generation of 325 TWh/year (around 30% of the total energy consumption of the Baltic countries in 2016).”
That would also make the Baltic Sea a strategic site for military maneuvers, a situation with NATO-wide implications if anyone threatens the offshore wind assets of a member state, such as Sweden plans to be.
Renewable Energy Bites Back
We’ll see how that pans out. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin clearly failed to read the energy tea leaves after the election of former US President Trump in 2016. Evidently he assumed that drawing Ukraine under the Russian sphere of influence would strengthen Russia’s grip on global energy markets. Instead, he lit a fire in the pants of EU energy planners, who are now scrambling for all the non-Russian energy resources they can get their hands on.
If Russia’s Baltic Fleet does throw a monkey wrench into offshore wind plans for the Baltic Sea, there are plenty of other offshore wind opportunities to be had in Europe and elsewhere.
In addition, other new developments on the energy horizon include the exploding market for green hydrogen. The green hydrogen trend is giving rise to new energy transportation alternatives, too, such as the hydrogen/ammonia nexus.
We’re also keeping an eye on a deal undertaken by the Spanish organization Foundation for the Development of New Hydrogen Technologies and the firm H2 Clipper, aimed at deploying dirigibles for hydrogen transportation.
Russia is still counting on its fossil energy exports to bring in the rubles for now, but its only a matter of time before that well runs dry.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Image: Offshore wind farms planned for Baltic Sea courtesy of Simply Blue Group.
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