Tech Insights

Sea to Shore: Artificial Energy Island Connects Wind To Grid

May 20, 2024 by Jake Hertz

Princess Elisabeth Island will serve as an international electricity exchange grid built on the North Sea seabed. 

Offshore wind farms are vital renewable resources for sustainable power generation. However, distributing and transmitting this energy poses significant challenges. Logistics become complex when transporting electricity from offshore sites to the onshore grids, involving costly and technically demanding infrastructure.

To circumvent this issue, a handful of European countries are investing in developing Princess Elisabeth Island, the world’s first “artificial energy” island. This innovative hub will connect HVDC and HVAC and serve as an intermediary in transmitting wind-generated electricity onshore.

 

Construction of Princess Elisabeth Island off Belgium’s coast.

Construction of Princess Elisabeth Island off Belgium’s coast. Image used courtesy of Elia (Photo 5)

 

Harnessing Offshore Wind Power

Offshore wind farms comprise clusters of wind turbines installed in bodies of water, typically in the ocean, to harness wind energy for electricity generation. Presently, offshore wind farm projects worldwide have a capacity of 68,848 MW. The offshore wind farm market is projected to experience rapid expansion, increasing from USD 42.43 billion in 2023 to USD 49.79 billion in 2024, with a 17.3% compound annual growth rate.

 

Offshore wind farms electricity transmission system 

Offshore wind farms electricity transmission system. Image courtesy of the Department of Energy

 

However, managing the transmission of offshore wind energy to the onshore grid is a significant concern with offshore wind farming. Achieving such transmission requires developing substantial infrastructure, such as substations, undersea cables, and transmission lines, which can be costly and challenging to construct. 

Generally, transmission is achieved through submarine export cables. However, the length of submarine export cables can affect power quality due to increased electrical losses and voltage drops over longer distances. Additionally, many offshore wind farms' remote locations present logistical difficulties during construction and maintenance. 

 

Charting New Waters

To address the issues with offshore wind farming, a group of European countries is constructing the world's first artificial energy island.

Princess Elisabeth Island, situated approximately 28 miles off the coast of Belgium in the North Sea, is effectively an electrical grid at sea. It will serve as an intermediary hub connecting offshore wind farms to the Belgian mainland, facilitating energy distribution and interconnections with the U.K. and Denmark. 

 

Princess Elizabeth Island will connect Belgium, Denmark, and the U.K.

Princess Elizabeth Island will connect Belgium, Denmark, and the U.K. Image used courtesy of Elia

 

The main building block of this island is a caisson, a large watertight structure used in marine construction to create a dry working environment underwater for foundations, bridges, or offshore platforms. Princess Elisabeth Island comprises 23 caissons, each weighing 20,000 tons, forming the energy island's outer walls. 

Princess Elisabeth Island will receive power from offshore wind turbines via undersea cables. It will then convert this power to high-voltage electricity, combining direct current (HVDC) and alternating current (HVAC) for distribution to the Belgian mainland and neighboring countries. Overall, Princess Elisabeth Island is part of the larger Princess Elisabeth Zone, a 3.5 GW offshore wind farm near Belgium’s coast.

 

Embracing the Winds of Change

Princess Elisabeth Island promises to play a pivotal role in bolstering renewable energy adoption. By serving as a central hub for energy distribution, the artificial energy island will enable efficient transmission of offshore wind energy into the grid. Project completion is expected in late 2026, with full connectivity by 2030. Overall, the project is part of a larger EU initiative to generate 300 GW of electricity from offshore wind farms by 2050.