The Ostend Declaration reinforces the ambitions of European countries, which have committed to massive wind power generation targets, with an ultimate commitment to generate up to 300 gigawatts (GW) of electricity from onshore wind in the North Sea by 2050. With the average annual electricity consumption and the ideal use of the installed capacity of the power plants, this would be enough to cover the yearly electricity consumption of 120,000 households in Slovakia. Achieving such a target will require rebuilding the current set-up for wind farm construction, as the industry is experiencing a challenging period affected by several factors. Ultimately, it can contribute to the European Union’s (EU) climate commitments, strengthen its energy security or reduce electricity prices.
Nine European countries, including seven EU member states, signed a declaration on April 24, 2023, in Ostend, Belgium, to increase electricity production from wind energy, specifically offshore wind farms located in the North Sea. Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, and the UK signed the declaration. The leaders committed to two main objectives. The first is to achieve at least 120 GW of electricity generation from offshore wind by 2030. This ambitious target has a follow-up, which is a commitment to generate 300 GW of electricity from offshore wind in the North Sea by 2050. The Ostend Declaration is an update of last year’s meeting of the leaders of Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany in Esbjerg, Denmark, where they set a target of 150 GW of electricity from wind power in the North Sea by 2050.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also participated in the North Sea Summit alongside representatives of the respective countries, which signifies not only diplomatic endorsement of this form of cooperation but also active engagement in new projects. Von der Leyen, on behalf of the European Union, signed an agreement on the so-called Green Alliance with Norway. This partnership aims to strengthen mutual efforts towards green transition, combating climate change, and environmental protection. In the document, both parties reaffirmed their climate goals to reduce greenhouse gas production by 55% by 2030 and to promote equitable energy transition in developing countries in the future.
The declaration of the nine countries comes at a time of several crises afflicting the European continent, each of which plays a role in why the initiative was launched. Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has shown that the conventional notion of economic interdependence will not deter non-democratic states from their imperial ambitions. Russia has also begun to use the energy resources and dependence of European countries as a political tool to make pressure. The new declaration intends to strengthen European energy security, for which renewables are the ideal means. However, the European bloc must avoid a similar scenario of creating dependency on countries that extract mineral resources or produce the necessary components for wind turbines or solar panels. In principle, developing renewable sources should also contribute to lower electricity prices.
Tackling the climate crisis is another aspect in which the Ostend Declaration plays an important role. The use of wind farms is a natural part of the strategy for combating greenhouse gas reductions, and the EU is moving closer to its climate targets thanks to similar projects. For the first time in history, the EU generated more electricity from renewable sources than from fossil fuels during the energy-intensive winter period, as analysis by the Ember think-tank has shown. This can be traced back to measures European countries took to reduce energy consumption, mild winter weather, and high fossil fuel prices. However, long-term energy savings and favourable weather conditions cannot be taken for granted in the future. The EU must gradually move away from electricity generation from traditional sources, and the offshore wind farms in the North Sea will contribute to this.
Implementing the conclusions of the Ostend Declaration is a challenge for both the countries involved and the EU. Achieving the goal of generating 300 GW of electricity from wind power in the North Sea will require changes in the European approach to wind farms. The sector is currently struggling, and one must remember that the installed capacity of offshore wind farms is yet only 15 GW. One of the main problems is the slow approval process for the construction of new wind farms, which can seriously undermine the achievement of the targets. Changing a more straightforward and faster process is necessary as no large wind farm reached a final investment decision in 2022. Other obstacles are increasing international competition in wind turbine manufacturing or the complicated system of auctions when awarding government contracts for their construction. In some countries, a developer may have to pay for the opportunity to build a wind turbine. Therefore, the participating countries and the EU have a long way to go to achieve the intentions of the Ostend Declaration. Still, its emergence shows the will to make it feasible and an awareness of what must be done together.
Photo credit: premier.be/North Sea Summit 2023