The law of unintended consequences has been working overtime ever since last February, when Russia launched its murderous attack on Ukraine. Instead of cementing Russia’s fossil energy stranglehold on the EU, the unprovoked rampage has kicked Europe’s clean power transition into high gear. In the latest development, a new Baltic Sea offshore wind collaboration between Germany and Denmark has turned the decarbonization dial up to number 11 with green hydrogen and electrofuels, to boot.
Russia Could Do Offshore Wind In The Baltic Sea, If It Wanted To
The Baltic Sea has not exactly been a headline-grabber in terms of the global offshore wind market, but Russia’s war has changed all that. Eight EU nations directly ring the sea, including Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Sweden. That puts the Baltic Sea front and center in the EU’s race to cut fossil energy ties with Russia.
Back in 2019, the organization Wind Europe toted up 2 gigawatts of existing offshore wind capacity in the Baltic Sea, shared among Finland and Sweden as well as Denmark and Germany. That’s peanuts compared to the potential capacity of Baltic Sea offshore wind, which the European Commission estimated at more than 93 gigawatts.
In terms of EU energy independence, the Baltic Sea is a game changer. The European Commission estimates that 93 gigawatts of offshore wind could produce 325 terawatt-hours per year, or about 30% of the total energy consumption of Baltic nations as of 2016.
New floating turbine technology will help unlock more of that offshore wind potential. Sweden, for example, is already laying plans for a total of 4.75 gigawatts worth of floating turbines distributed among two sites in the Baltic Sea.
Meanwhile, Russia also has a finger on the Baltic Sea, through Kaliningrad Oblast, an odd little sliver of land lies between Lithuania and Poland. It is completely cut off from the rest of Russia, but it does have the Kaliningrad seaport, which happens to be Russia’s only seaport in Europe that is ice-free all year.
Kaliningrad could give Russia a toehold on offshore wind development in the Baltic Sea. However, Kaliningrad is already the headquarters of Russia’s Baltic Fleet. That could put Russia in position to obstruct rather than support offshore wind in the Baltic Sea.
Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to have his hands full with other matters at the moment, but energy independence for the Baltic states is a backdoor threat, so keep an eye on that fleet.
Germany & Denmark Plunge Into Baltic Offshore Wind
Against this backdrop, Germany and Denmark set the Intertubes on fire last week, when they announced a new collaboration on renewable energy in the Baltic Sea.
The offshore wind angle is just one part of a sprawling 7-section Action Plan aimed at fortifying the two nations and the EU against Russian hegemony, but it is front and center.
“Given the high ambitions of both governments on the climate agenda, the Action Plan sets out the promotion of a real green transition as one of its main objectives,” the German Federal Foreign Office explained.
“In order to combat climate change and reduce dependency on fossil fuels from Russia, we declare our willingness to increase our bilateral cooperation on accelerating a green energy transition as soon as possible – both in Northern Europe, in the EU and globally,” they added.
That covers a lot of ground, but the offshore wind angle alone is a whopper. The aim is to establish offshore wind as the “Green Power Plant of Europe,” leveraging both the North Sea and the Baltic Sea.
“By initiating steps towards an interconnected offshore power grid in Europe, we must optimise how we use our wind resources most efficiently. Setting up joint and hybrid projects with wind parks connected to more than one country will contribute to this. To best realise massive offshore wind potentials in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, a close collaboration between the two countries will be important in securing the supply of green electricity to European households and businesses,” they explain.
Denmark and Germany have already gotten the ball rolling. A newly announced interconnection to Denmark’s planned offshore hub will enable Germany to access at least 3 gigawatts of Baltic Sea wind.
All This & Green Hydrogen, Too
Of course, no discussion of offshore wind is complete without a mention of green hydrogen. The green H2 angle should send a shudder up the spines of fossil energy stakeholders in Russia and elsewhere, because it impacts the EU industrial sector and other areas that were once thought difficult if not impossible to decarbonize.
For those of you new to the topic, the global hydrogen market has leaned heavily on natural gas as a feedstock for decades, with coal and refinery byproducts also playing a role. More recently, low-cost renewable resources have opened the door for advanced electrolysis systems that push hydrogen gas from water.
The connection between offshore wind and green hydrogen is a key feature in the new Action Plan. The two partners will take advantage of the fact that demand for hydrogen is relatively low in Denmark but the potential for green hydrogen production is high. Germany and other EU nations could easily make use of the excess capacity.
“Germany…foresees a significant demand for hydrogen, e.g. to decarbonise the German heavy steel and chemical industries,” the Foreign Office notes. “As neighbouring countries, Denmark and Germany will focus on initiating a dialogue on building a hydrogen infrastructure to transport hydrogen through pipes between Denmark and Germany.”
If you caught that thing about chemical industries, that’s important. Much of the buzz over hydrogen has focused on fuel cell vehicles, but hydrogen is also the key ingredient in ammonia fertilizer (NH3), personal care products, and pharmaceuticals among others. Wrenching fossil sources out of the chemical supply chain is a necessary step towards cutting EU ties to Russian gas.
Electrofuels Factor In, Too
Carbon capture also plays a significant role in the new plan, only it’s not quite what you might think. Carbon harvested from industrial operations and other non-fossil sources can go to work producing electrofuels. Also referred to as Power-to-X, electrofuels are synthetic fuels made from recycled carbon and green hydrogen.
Sweden and other Baltic nations are already jumping on the electrofuel bandwagon. Denmark and Germany have also laid the groundwork for a Power-to-X industry, and the Action Plan commits them to further development.
“Utilisation of carbon for the production of Power-to-X (PtX) products seems necessary in order to decarbonise hard to abate sectors like aviation, shipping and certain energy intensive industrial processes,” they note. “Early uptake on PtX products is likely to increase the speed of the transformation by use of the PtX fuels, which is subject for further cooperation. Germany and Denmark will continue the common work.”
Energy efficiency is among the other areas encompassed by the Action Plan. If you spot anything else of particular interest, drop us a note in the comment thread (here’s that Foreign Office link again).
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Photo (screenshot): Offshore wind turbines in Baltic Sea courtesy of European Commission.
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