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Futuristic Offshore Wind ‘Energy Island’ Moves Forward

March 17, 2023 by Shannon Cuthrell

A 3.5-gigawatt offshore wind energy island off the coast of Belgium will begin construction in 2024, with full commissioning expected by 2030. 

French clean energy producer EDF Renewables and Belgian firms Jan De Nul Group and Luminus recently announced their joint tender bid for a portion of the North Sea reserved for offshore wind development. Around 28 miles from Belgium’s coast, the trio intends to develop a 3.5-gigawatt (GW) “energy island” spanning a surface area of 110 square miles. 

 

A rendering of Belgium’s upcoming energy island hub in the North Sea. Image used courtesy of Elia

 

Billed as the world’s first artificial energy island combining direct current and alternating current systems, the project will receive energy from offshore wind turbines and convert it from 66 kilovolts (kV) to 220 kV for transport to the mainland. Surrounded by offshore wind farms, the central power plant will be the hub for future interconnections with British and Danish electricity networks. Belgium’s electric transmission system operator, Elia, expects to commission the island’s electric infrastructure by 2030. 

 

Video used courtesy of Jan De Nul Group
 

Conceptually, the project is similar to Dubai’s famous man-made archipelago. Jan De Nul has experience in this field since the 1980s, building artificial islands in Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong, and the Indian Ocean’s Seychelles. 

According to Jan De Nul’s website, the area set aside for electrical infrastructure is about 6 hectares, and the island will be built from sand-filled concrete caissons. To cover the cost of building the island’s foundations, Elia received a $105 million grant as part of the European Commission’s COVID-19 recovery and resilience fund. However, the total cost of the project is unclear. 

 

A rendering of energy island infrastructure off the coast of Belgium in the North Sea. Image used courtesy of Elia

 

Elia recently awarded an engineering, procurement, construction, and installation (EPCI) contract to TM EDISON, Jan De Nul Group’s joint venture with Belgium-based offshore infrastructure developer DEME. TM EDISON then selected Norway-based BOA to build the island, providing a semi-submersible barge to deliver 23 concrete caissons. 

Construction should begin early next year and extend through August 2026. The caissons will be built and installed through 2025, followed by the island’s base being raised and electrical infrastructure added. 

 

Belgium Dedicates ‘Princess Elisabeth Zone’ to Offshore Wind

As part of its Marine Spatial Plan, introduced in 2020, the Belgian government blocked off a portion of the North Sea, dubbed the “Princess Elisabeth Zone,” to boost the country’s offshore energy production to 5.8 GW by 2030, nearly triple its current capacity. The country aims to get 25% of its electricity from North Sea wind farms by 2030, saving an estimated 8.6 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. 

 

A bird’s eye view of the existing wind farms in the North Sea, which provide around 2.2 GW of installed capacity. Image used courtesy of Belgian Offshore Platform

 

Since 2020, nearly a dozen wind farms have been built in the eastern portion of the zone adjacent to the Netherlands border, totaling 2.2 GW of capacity. Over the first two years of operation, they met about 8% of Belgium’s electricity demand, serving nearly 2 million households. 

The undeveloped space consists of three sub-zones spanning 110 square miles and totaling up to 3.5 GW: One with 700 megawatts (MW) capacity and two with 1.2 to 1.4 GW each. These zones will be subject to tender for future wind farms, with the publication of the first tender scheduled for 2024. 

 

A map of the Princess Elisabeth Zone. Image used courtesy of Elia

 

Elia submitted a permit application to build and operate the project earlier this year. The company will still need to complete the tender and permitting procedures before constructing the island from 2024 to mid-2026. 

 

Others to Build Energy Islands

The project supports Belgium’s goal to reach at least 5.7 GW of offshore capacity by 2030. However, after the war in Ukraine, the country’s minister of energy called for raising the target to 8 GW. 

More broadly, Belgium’s energy island will also contribute to the European Union’s target to install 150 GW of offshore capacity by 2030 and 300 GW by 2050. As of 2021, the EU had only 14.6 GW of installed offshore wind capacity, according to the European Commission

Development has slowed since then, though. According to WindEurope statistics, offshore wind farms only accounted for 2.5 GW of the total 19 GW of new wind capacity added in Europe last year. Meanwhile, not one offshore project reached a final investment decision, a trend WindEurope attributes to inflation driving up the price of wind turbines and EU policies intervening in electricity markets. 

Still, Belgium isn’t alone in the effort to build artificial islands for energy transmission. Europe’s growing renewable energy footprint has led companies in Denmark and the Netherlands to pursue similar projects. The latter is developing a 4 GW artificial island in the Dutch North Sea. 

 

A panorama of the proposed energy island in the Danish part of the North Sea. A high-voltage direct current system will pull energy from several wind farms and send it back to Denmark. Image used courtesy of the VindØ Consortium

 

Denmark plans to add an offshore wind island in the North and Baltic seas by 2030, initially providing 3 GW before scaling up to 10 GW. Denmark’s government estimates construction will cost around 210 billion Danish crowns ($29.7 billion).