For Europe to make good on the climate action ambition of expanding its sea-based wind fleet seven-fold by 2050 will require a focus on scaling up for the 'big numbers' from utility-level clean power output through to jobs creation, Equinor SVP Trine Borum Bojsen tells Beaufort
By Darius Snieckus
The word ‘scale’ regularly punctuates discussions about North Sea wind power with Trine Borum Bojsen, senior vice president for renewables in Europe at Equinor. Not surprising, of course, given that Norwegian energy giant has been one of a cadre of developers with a think-big philosophy on the industrialization of offshore wind that has helped slash its cost of energy below that of fossil gas – and has raised hopes in the EU that as much as 300GW of plant could be constructed by 2050 to boost the green transition.
Turning the 40GW spinning today in the northern seas into “Europe's biggest green power plant” by mid-century – while decarbonizing heavy emitting industry at sea and along the region’s coasts – will only be possible by focusing on ‘scale’ – from the length of turbine blade through the size of an offshore wind plant to the scope of each nations’ build-out, she underlines.
Bojsen has unique insight here. Among the developments she is overseeing in her role at Equinor is the UK’s €10bn ($11bn) Dogger Bank, at 3.6GW, the biggest offshore wind – and, in fact, offshore energy – project under construction on the planet. But its importance of its scale, Bojsen notes, goes beyond the “big numbers” of clean gigawatts it will generate.
“Dogger Bank is a flagship for us but also for the industry. Building 3.6GW – in three phases – which when it is [operational] will produce electricity for 5% of the UK demand – that's substantial. But this size [of project] brings other benefits to the UK supply chain” in the form of hundreds of millions of pounds sterling in contracts to everything from service vessels to civil works and operational bases, she says.
“So, the project is actually sort of also a showcase of wider societal benefit,” Bojsen states, adding that Equinor has also set up community funds, and sponsored over 60 science and engineering scholarships for local students.
A just transition 'beacon' project
Progress on Dogger Bank, which is due to start flowing power to the grid in 2026, is being watched closely by developers and governments alike: for one, in order to glean early insights into the economies of scale created by such an offshore wind megaproject and, more widely, to understand the wider economic development potential to be found in expanding domestic supply chains to support construction and, later, operation of this clean energy complex.
Getting to the EU’s hugely ambitious installed offshore capacity goals needs “beacons” like Dogger Bank, says Bojsen, especially during a period when energy security emerged as a “main theme” of global geopolitics though the pandemic years and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Energy security and energy independence became main themes of the last two years – which is sweet music to the ears of the renewables [sector], because this is all relatively ‘regional’ supply energy. And this is what we need to double down on to achieve that sort of security – control of – our supply,” she says.
“The North Sea comes into this as an [evolving] energy basin and will play a big role [as a clean power hub in the future]. Offshore wind is key to this transition.”
Northern European governments’ individual build-out objectives underline how ‘key’: the UK wants 50GW installed by 2030, with Germany and the Netherlands aiming for 30GW and 21GW, respectively, by then.
Look out a couple of decades, and the aspirations are even greater: Britain has not set a 2050 goal but its climate advisory body, the Climate Change Committee, has calculated it needs 125GW of sea-based plant to reach net-zero by this date, while Germany and the Netherlands have set targets of 70GW by 2045 and 2050, respectively.
'The North Sea comes into this as an evolving energy basin and will play a big role as a clean power hub.'Trine Borum Bojsen
SVP Europe, Renewables
To get anywhere near these positively climate-impacting targets, observers broadly agree, will take a vast armada of floating turbines as well as the fleet of bottom-fixed machines now being installed.
In the UK, Scotland’s landmark 26GW ScotWind leasing round saw 75% of acreage awarded being in waters requiring gigascale moored array, while in the Celtic Sea between England and Wales, 4GW of floating is soon to be auctioned. In Norway, in the meantime, the 1.5GW Utsira Nord deepwater zone is going to come under the gavel for first projects. Floating wind projects are also the way from the Irish Atlantic to the Baltic Sea off Finland.
Project pipeline is not power production though, with route-to-market pinchpoints and supply chain bottlenecks impeding the scale- and volume-driven industrialization the sector is journeying into in Europe, where once bullish 2030 predictions have generally seen downward corrections.
Trollvind 'a special case'
Indeed, Equinor decision to “pause” the giant 1GW Trollvind floating wind project – being engineered to flow clean power to the ageing Troll and Oseberg offshore oil complex for CO2 emission-reduction and as a follow-up to the 95MW Hywind Tampen array now part-decarbonizing the Snorre-Gullfaks oil field – rang alarm bells for many in the sector.
“Trollvind was a ‘special case’,” says Bojsen. “It was postponed due to very specific reasons related to technology availability within a very ambitious timeline we had for the project [which would had it operating by 2027]. Then, we have had general cost increase pressures these days. So all of those parts didn't fit together. But we are very firm that we have tested and proven floating [via Hywind Tampen and the 30MW Hywind Scotland, the world’s first commercial deepwater array] and we believe in the technology. There's going to be a huge market for floating.”
One facet of that market, she adds, will be “floating wind ‘plus’” – using moored arrays to decarbonize currently fossil-fuelled industries, not least oil & gas. “To mature this [application] further, again its scale, scale, scale you are talking about. To have predictability of pipeline, like having ‘pearls on a string’. This will lift volumes and bring cost down as it did with bottom-fixed. We can get the same cost-out curve.”
The bigger picture narrative taking shape in North Sea 3.0, as the next chapter in the maritime province’s industrial history is being dubbed, is expected to hinge on the power-to-x factor. Clean electricity will be the major export from the offshore and floating wind to start, but green hydrogen and the associated e-fuels will increasingly influence the sector’s economics.
Bojsen believes “we are in an all-hands-on-deck” phase of the energy transition. “Before you can even think about green molecules, you need to have access to excess green electrons. So, electrify all that can be electrifiable – and then you have other sectors that need a fuel, and that is where green hydrogen comes into play, for decarbonizing the heavy-emitting, hard to abate sectors.”
“Europe is already seeing tenders with pieces of the ‘broader’ energy offerings and we see other still with [a focus] on pure-play electron markets. I think Equinor, with our more than 50 years of experience with [hydrocarbon] liquids and gases, can have be an important enabler of the transition of this mix.”
Market complexity and merchant risk
While she flags that the “complexity of the energy system in Europe is becoming greater and the ask [by governments of developers] to take on merchant [ie unsubsidized] risk in bidding into auction, Bojsen remains optimistic of the pace of industrial change ahead.
“We mustn’t confuse [present-day market pressures] with the long-term future – we are definitely going to ‘make it’,” Bojsen concludes. “Currently we are weathering the storm, but we are coming together as integrated energy companies, governments and the supply chain to find new solutions.
“There is still a gap between setting higher ambitions [for offshore wind plant capacity] and providing the regulatory framework for it. There's a need to speed up even further to get those building blocks rightly in place for the industry to deliver at the scale we will need to be able to.”
Gigascale offshore wind, green electricity and hydrogen production and a network of power and liquid and gas export trunklines, offshore oil decarbonization, energy islands: “We need it all”, says Bojsen. “And [Equinor] wants to have a hand in finding new solutions to what is not going to be about inventing ‘just a simple [new] power plan’ for Europe.”
As part of Wavelength, Aegir's new digital-format interview series, we talked with Trine more in depth about this exciting next chapter in the Northern Seas energy adventure.
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