European offshore wind race gets off to a flying start


As the world increasingly turns to offshore wind, the European Union (EU) countries are setting high targets for themselves, with 300 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind capacity to be installed here by 2050. Increased electricity production in offshore wind farms would make a significant contribution to a climate-neutral economy, a warming of less than 1.5ºC and energy independence for many countries. The Baltic countries are also newcomers to a sector that has been developing for several decades. Will Lithuania, the leader in onshore wind capacity, also become a pioneer in offshore wind farms?

Marine energy is an important strand for the EU as a whole in meeting the objectives of the European Green Deal, reducing climate change and reducing imports of energy resources. The EU has developed a Marine Energy Strategy, which sets targets of 60 GW of installed capacity of offshore wind farms by 2030 and 300 GW by 2050.

To meet the EU’s targets, the North Sea countries signed a declaration in 2022 and updated it earlier this year to increase the targets, now aiming for 120 GW of offshore wind power capacity by 2030 and 300 GW by 2050.

“In the Baltic Sea, which has a total wind energy potential estimated by industry experts at 93 GW, countries signed the Marienburg Declaration in 2022, committing to develop at least 19.6 GW of offshore wind farm capacity by 2030. However, several countries have recently revised and increased their targets. So it looks like the targets set in the EU Offshore Wind Strategy for 2030 could be exceeded if the industry supply chain meets the demand for equipment,” says Paulius Petrašiūnas of European Energy Lithuania.

The Marienburg Declaration states that Lithuania will aim to develop 1.4 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030, neighbouring Poland and Latvia 12 GW and 0.4 GW respectively and Estonia 1 GW.

“Experts have calculated a total installed capacity potential of 23 GW in the offshore sites identified in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia as favourable for renewable energy development. If the full potential of the Baltic offshore wind farms were exploited, the electricity production would be three times higher than the current electricity consumption of the Baltic countries. So a lot of work needs to be done on electricity interconnections with other countries and on increasing electricity consumption in the countries to make this potential possible,” he says.

Reached 32 gigawatts

According to WindEurope, the European wind energy industry’s umbrella organisation, the old continent has an installed capacity of 32 GW of offshore wind power. The leaders in offshore wind in Europe are the United Kingdom (UK), Germany and Denmark, which built the first offshore wind farm in Europe 32 years ago. Other strong countries in the sector include the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Spain, the Faroe Islands, Portugal and Ireland.

In the first half of this year, 2.1 GW of offshore wind capacity has been developed in Europe, strengthening the Dutch, UK, German and Norwegian energy sectors.

Ireland, which is slightly larger than Lithuania, has also made a recent breakthrough. The country, which has one offshore wind farm, held its first offshore wind auction in May, with four projects winning with a combined capacity of 3 GW.

Germany, one of the sole leaders in offshore wind farms, also held its biggest auction to date in July, with a 7 GW project.

Active Baltic and Scandinavian regions

The Baltic and Scandinavian regions are currently among the most active in offshore wind energy, with many new offshore wind farms planned by 2030 and new entrants to the sector.

Finland plans to tender for five offshore wind projects in 2023 and 2024, with a total capacity of 6 GW. Sweden’s 1.5 GW offshore wind power plants coming on stream by 2029 will contribute to the country’s goal of 33.3 GW installed capacity in offshore parks by 2040.

Neighbouring Latvia and Estonia are developing a joint offshore wind project, Elwind, with a capacity of between 700 and 1000 megawatts (MW). The necessary studies are currently being carried out and an auction is expected in three years’ time, after which the developer will be able to prepare to build the power plants.

Estonia has also announced a site in its offshore wind farm master plan with a total potential estimated by Danish consultants Aegir Insights at around 12 GW and a first auction at the end of the year, the terms of which have already been made public.

Meanwhile, business interest in developing offshore wind farms in Estonia is high, with up to 10 applications for offshore wind farm development rights. Eligible applicants are still expected to compete in auctions for this opportunity.

According to various estimates, at least 4 offshore wind farms could be developed in Lithuania’s maritime zone. The results of the first auction for a 700 MW wind farm in the Baltic Sea, which was announced in mid-July, are still pending, with Ignitis Renewables, an Ignitis Group company, together with international offshore wind farm developer Ocean Winds, named as the potential winner, and the start of the next one to be announced in autumn.

“Two offshore wind farms with a combined capacity of 1.4 GW are expected to come on stream along the Latvian-Lithuanian border by 2030. Given the boom in offshore energy projects in European countries, their complexity and the potential complications in supply chains, this is a very ambitious and hardly achievable deadline, even under the most favourable circumstances. However, the development of offshore wind energy is very important for the country as a whole and for each electricity consumer individually, both in terms of taxes paid to the budget and lower electricity prices,” says Linas Sabaliauskas of the Lithuanian Wind Energy Association (LVEA).

Good practice is worth taking advantage of

L.Sabaliauskas notes that although Lithuania was the first among the Baltic States to announce an auction, the country is still taking its first steps in wind energy, so it is useful to take advantage of the good practice of foreign countries that have been operating in this market for much longer.

“European countries have already installed 32 GW of offshore wind power plants, so they have undoubtedly learned many lessons along the way that are worth drawing on. For example, offering investors an already established infrastructure so that when they come to a new country they do not have to spend several years navigating the country’s specific legal and energy system, while at the same time building the energy infrastructure needed for business development according to the wishes of local operators,” he reflects.

For his part, Petrašiūnas notes that the country’s authorities are already using some best practices from countries with more experience in offshore wind energy. As an example, he mentions the reserved capacity for the first parks in the transmission grid and the infrastructure corridors being prepared to connect the first two offshore parks to the onshore transmission grid.

“Reserved capacity provides a guarantee that when the time comes, a few years from now, there will be available capacity at a given grid connection point for the offshore wind farm to be connected. And the corridor reduces the burden and risk for developers, who will not only not have to go through studies and other land-use planning procedures to locate the corridor offshore and onshore, but will also not have to deal with the conundrum of having to deal with the challenges of selecting the land needed for the infrastructure corridor onshore,” he says.

Offshore wind expert P. Petrašiūnas adds that although Lithuania has a small part of the Baltic Sea and relatively low potential in the identified areas, it would benefit from foreign practices and intensive planning, for example, to develop a clearer long-term auction plan for the two remaining offshore wind farms.

“Perhaps new areas for the development of offshore energy in deeper waters should also be identified by reviewing the areas of the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Republic of Lithuania in the Baltic Sea dedicated to the development of renewable energy. This could be done not only in cooperation with other countries to develop electricity or other energy carrier interconnections, but also by working with industry and potential investors on a plan for how locally generated electricity could be used to create products and services and thus generate higher added value for the country and its people,” he said.