Offshore wind energy in Lithuania is taking its first steps, with the Ministry of Energy planning to announce the first auction for a wind farm in the Baltic Sea in September 2023, and to select the winner in early 2024. The Seimas has already approved a proposal to build another offshore wind farm with private investors without state support. Although the first offshore wind farms will not start turning until around 2028, renewable energy advocates believe that Lithuania’s choice to develop offshore wind energy is timely and necessary.
Europe is considered a leader in offshore energy, with the largest wind farms in the world. Although offshore wind farms in Europe have a total installed capacity of just 28 gigawatts (GW) – 7 times less than onshore wind farms (207 GW) – wind energy experts estimate that the potential of offshore wind is much higher.
According to Wind Europe, the European wind industry’s umbrella organisation, the theoretical potential of offshore wind is between 2,600 and 6,000 terawatt-hours (TWh). By comparison, Lithuania’s onshore wind farms generated 1.36 TWh of electricity for the whole year in 2021. The potential of offshore wind farms is confirmed by the members of the Lithuanian Wind Energy Association (LVEA).
“Offshore wind farms are larger and more powerful than onshore wind farms. Due to the natural conditions, the wind is stronger and more stable at sea, both daily and year-round, which allows offshore wind farms to be more efficient, given the technological differences in the size of the plants,” comments Vytautas Rimas, Head of Offshore Energy Development in Lithuania at Ignitis Renewables, an international green energy company.
The Baltic Sea offers favourable conditions for offshore wind development, he says, with strong enough winds, relatively shallow sea depths and a good distance to the coast. It is also the right time to develop offshore wind energy.
“Lithuania has had one of the lowest electricity prices in Europe for the last decade, and offshore wind projects in other European countries during this period have typically only been implemented with state support, which means that in the past, similar projects would have potentially had a negative impact on Lithuania’s final electricity tariff. Now that we have much more advanced technologies to reduce the need for such support or to implement projects on a commercial basis, the development of offshore wind energy in Lithuania is reasonable and timely,” says Mr Rimas.
Matas Anužis, head of the RWE Renewables project in Lithuania, which currently operates 19 offshore wind farms for the energy company RWE, echoes a similar view: “Lithuania reflects the trends in the region.
“Looking at Lithuania’s position in the region, we can say that the countries in the region are at a fairly similar level in the development of offshore wind energy. Many of the wind projects currently under development in other Baltic Sea countries will start generating electricity at the end of this decade and the beginning of the next decade, around 2030,” he says.
Last September, RWE signed a letter of intent with Latvian energy company Latvenergo, and in Estonia it started developing greenfield offshore wind projects in early 2022, with auctions expected to start this year.
In his opinion, the development of offshore wind farms creates unique conditions for Lithuania to significantly improve the situation in terms of domestic electricity generation capacity.
“With the first two auctions for the construction of offshore wind farms, Lithuania can secure about one-third of the electricity demand, which may lead to a decrease in the electricity price in the future. This will significantly contribute to the country’s strategic goals of energy independence and energy security,” said Mr Anužis.
The environmental impact will be assessed
Offshore wind turbines are different from onshore wind turbines in terms of the complexity of their installation – offshore wind turbines are not only more difficult to build but also more difficult to maintain. However, both are subject to stringent requirements. Planning for the first offshore wind farm in Lithuania has already started with environmental impact assessment procedures, wind speed measurements and seabed surveys, and market consultations to answer developers’ questions.
The public is also asking questions, especially about the visual impact. According to Mr Rimas, the wind farms in the Baltic Sea will be located approximately 30 km from the shore and will therefore have limited visibility.
“The extent to which offshore wind turbines will be visible from the shore will also depend on their size, which we don’t know at the moment, and on the weather conditions at a given time. For example, on a foggy day, due to the long distance and poor weather conditions, the power plants will potentially not be visible at all, or will be minimally visible,” says the Head of Marine Energy Development in Lithuania at Ignitis Renewables.
According to Anužis, in other Baltic countries, offshore wind farms are planned to be built in areas within 11-12 km from the coast. In each case, the visual impact is also assessed in an environmental impact assessment process, the results of which are shared with the public. In addition, Lithuania has a support mechanism for communities located closest to the offshore wind farm site.
“The challenges associated with offshore wind farms should not be underestimated, but their advantages should also be kept in mind. Offshore wind farms will be the largest private investment projects in the country’s history, creating high value-added jobs, new opportunities for educational institutions and small and medium-sized businesses. In addition, the development of offshore wind energy creates favourable conditions for the development of new activities in the port area,” emphasises Mr Anužis.