Future Energy Industry Trends

In the last 10 years, there have been significant achievements in the offshore wind industry: - The rated capacity of offshore wind turbine has grown 62% over the past decade, with 8 MW turbines now generating energy at sea, and larger turbines in development. - The average size of installed wind farms increased 8-fold, with an average wind farm size of 379.5 MW - The largest wind farm project ever (1.2 GW Hornsea One project) reached financial investment decision in 2016. - Projects are being constructed in deeper waters, with bottom-fixed projects at an average water depth of 29.2 m and an average distance to shore of 43.5 km. The average size of offshore wind farm projects is expected to grow further with average size of currently consented projects being ca. at 700 MW, and projection of planned projects by WindEurope exceeding 1,000 MW in average size. This will result in a range of industry trends detailed below. Overall, these future energy trends will have spatial implications for MSP and it will be critical for MSP to keep up with these advancements in energy technology in order to mitigate against any spatial implications that may arise.

Increased depth of offshore wind farms/further offshore and increased turbine capacity

In order to meet the increasing energy demands and EU electricity targets, offshore wind farms are being moved further offshore in order to tap into the large wind potential and deep North Sea waters. Current commercial substructures are economically limited to maximum water depths of 40 m to 50 m. The ‘deep offshore’ environment starts at water depths greater than 50 m and 66% of the North Sea has a water depth between 50 m and 220 m.

In 2015 the average water depth of offshore wind farms was 27.2 m and the average distance to shore was 43.3 km. In 2016, the average water depth rose to 29.2 m and the average distance to shore has also rose to 44 km. It is clear that the average water depth and distance to shore are expected to continue to increase in the future.


Figure 29: : Average water depth, distance to shore of bottom-fixed, offshore wind farms by development status. The size of the bubble indicates the overall capacity of the site  


Along with the trend towards deeper waters, the offshore wind industry is also developing larger, more powerful turbines. The average size of the turbines grid connected during 2012 was 4 MW. This has now risen to 4.8 MW in 2016. 8 MW turbines were installed in 2016 and generating power for the first time, reflecting the rapid pace of technological development.


Figure 30: Progression of wind turbine sizes and their rated energy output (MW) up to 2016 .


Conclusion and effect on MSP

  • Trends of offshore wind farms becoming bigger, more powerful and moving further offshore in deeper waters are set to increase
  • Floating wind will become more popular in deeper waters, further offshore.
  • Maritime spatial planning can help the development of offshore wind farms in deeper waters by defining spatial zones. This will provide stability and clarity for investors and help to reduce project costs.
  • Provided there is appropriate siting and careful spatial planning of wind farms in deep water locations, it will reduce spatial conflict within congested inshore waters and avoid higher densities of marine users.


Increased development area (no. of turbines)

Due to spatial restrictions in the North Sea, many offshore wind farms are limited by the size of their development area and the number of turbines. However, larger offshore wind farms with 100 plus wind turbines have been constructed. For example, the London Array in the Southern North Sea is currently the largest  offshore wind farm in the North Sea with 175 turbines. The final turbine was put in place in December 2012. The Gemini wind park 85 km off the North coast of the Netherlands which was fully commissioned in April 2017, is not far behind with 150 turbines. Whether or not increasing numbers of turbines within offshore wind farms will become a future trend in the North Sea is not yet clear and is largely dependent on spatial limitations, competition with other marine users and relative profitability of smaller versus larger turbines.

Conclusion and effect on MSP

  • Trend for increased development area (no. of turbines) is not yet clear
  • Fewer, more powerful turbines may be favoured over the more, less powerful turbines due to spatial restrictions.
  • For MSP this means that offshore wind farms will require and occupy more sea space and increase competition with other sea users.



Floating wind

A floating wind turbine is an offshore wind turbine mounted on a floating structure that allows the turbine to generate electricity in water depths where bottom-mounted structures are not feasible. This offers the advantage of unlocking deeper water sites and a virtually inexhaustible resource potential. In European waters, 80% of all the offshore wind resource is located in waters 60 m and deeper.

Most offshore wind farms are still traditionally bottom-fixed. However, floating wind technology has developed significantly in recent years and is now ready to be integrated into the energy market. Semisubmersible and spar buoy floating substructures are now deemed appropriate for launch and operations, while the barge and the tension leg platform (TLP) floating substructure concepts are still under development and are expected to become operational in the coming years. The floating offshore wind sector will benefit from the latest technologies available in the offshore wind supply chain, enabling costs to fall significantly in the years to come. Nine projects, with a total of 338 MW of capacity are planned to be commissioned by 2021 in France, the UK, Ireland and Portugal.


Figure 31: The four main technologies for floating offshore wind (Source: Green Giraffe)


Floating wind in the North Sea consists of the world’s first floating wind farm, Hywind pilot park, 25 km off the coast of Peterhead, Aberdeenshire in Scotland. Hywind consists of a 30 MW wind farm made up of 5 wind turbines on floating structures at Buchan Deep. The pilot park will cover around 4 square kilometres, at a water depth of 95-120 metres.


Figure 32: The world’s first floating wind farm, Hywind pilot park, 25 km off the coast of Peterhead, Aberdeenshire in Scotland (Source: StatOil)


Another large scale project in the North Sea is the Kincardine Floating Offshore Windfarm, approximately 15 km south east of Aberdeen, Scotland. The wind farm consists of 8 floating wind turbines with a maximum generating capacity of 50 MW. The wind farm will cover around 110 square kilometres, at a water depth of around 60-80 metres.

Conclusion and effect on MSP

  • Floating wind unlocks deeper water sites and virtually inexhaustible resource potential around the North Sea.
  • A positive policy environment around floating wind must be developed to improve the outlook of the technology and to attract more investment for the industry to aid its commercial deployment and cost competitiveness against fixed foundations.
  • Floating wind turbines are also expected to be able to support larger wind turbines, for example 12-15 MW, which is consistent with the trend of increasing capacities of wind turbines.
  • For MSP this means that there will be less spatial conflict with congested inshore marine users but potentially more spatial conflict with other marine users e.g. shipping.


Increased development of tidal and wave energy

Tidal and wave energy has been slower to progress than wind energy. Wave energy is still within experimental phases within the North Sea. However, tidal energy is slowly starting up with 6 projects fully commissioned in the NSR.

Despite the slower progress, tidal and wave energy bring the significant benefit of offering an alternative solution to traditional grid-connected applications. Alongside utility-scale deployment, ocean energy devices can plug into local and isolated energy markets. Smaller-scale wave or tidal energy devices can already compete with systems using diesel generators; meeting the power demand of an island, powering a desalinisation plant or fish-farm out at sea.

Tidal energy projects of single devices are fully commissioned in The Netherlands, Norway and UK (Scotland). Scotland is leading the way with the most projects. The world’s first commercial tidal energy farm, the MeyGen Tidal Stream Project has been built in the Pentland Firth, Scotland (Figure 33). Phase 1A consists of 4 tidal turbines which are all currently deployed and Phase 1B, a further 4 turbines has been given consent in June 2017. The MeyGen project currently has consent for up to 86 MW capacity but have future plans for a 398 MW capacity project.


Figure 33: The world’s first commercial tidal energy farm, MeyGen Tidal Stream Project in the Pentland Firth, Scotland (Source: CNN)


The North Sea has not yet been regarded as prime area for wave energy development in Europe except in Denmark and Germany. The reason is the relatively low energy density in the waves compared to waves in the Atlantic coast regions. Despite significant appetite for developing wave energy in Scotland, Scottish sites with the appropriate physical conditions are all found in the west coast (Atlantic side). However with plans to build a super grid connecting all the wind sites with major consumers around the North Sea, opportunities may open up for wave energy in the long term.

Competition for space is an issue for wave energy developments as they will have to compete with offshore wind farms. However, most wave devices are preferably deployed in deeper waters than offshore wind farms. Even if wave devices are within the same area as offshore wind farms, there may be opportunities for many wave devices to coexist with offshore wind.

Conclusion and effect on MSP

For MSP, tidal and wave energy will have to compete with offshore wind energy for space and grid connection. Whether or not they will be a future energy trend will depend on their ability to compete with the energy production and efficiency of offshore wind.


Multi-Use developments

Due to increasing demands on ocean resources as well as increasing pressure on use of marine space within most North Sea Countries planning areas, a future trend may be to have Multi-Use (MU) developments. MU is the shared use of marine resources in same marine area/close proximity. Some examples of Multi-Use developments in the North Sea is the co-use of marine space between offshore wind facilities and the production of food (fisheries/aquaculture) and Marine Protected Areas within Offshore Wind Farms. Some novel technology ideas of Multi-Use are combining wind and wave energy developments or wind and aquaculture on the same structure. A Horizon 2020 funded project which is looking into the concept of Multi-Use developments in European Seas is the MUSES Project. The introduction of Multi-Use developments would be spatially advantageous to countries such as Belgium who, unlike Scotland, cannot afford to have single use areas for offshore energy developments due to limited available space in their EEZ.

Conclusion and effect on MSP 

  • For MSP, multi-use is a spatial benefit as more than one marine user will occupy less total area, therefore increasing spatial efficiency.
  • Multi-Use developments will help to overcome barriers and conflicts, minimise limitations and maximise synergies between two (or more) maritime activities.


Offshore Energy Renewable Developments Decommissioning

Most offshore wind farms in the North Sea have a marine licence for 25 years. After this period, the marine licence will expire and the development will be decommissioned. In Scotland for example, it is a legal requirement for developers to prepare a fully-costed decommissioning programme prior to licence award. The programme details how the developer intends to remove the installation when it comes to the end of its useful life and how the costs of doing so will be funded. This gives the project financial security and protects against developers failing to pay the decommissioning costs and not being liable for the removal of the infrastructure, resulting in it being left on the seabed.

Conclusion and effect on MSP

A fully-costed decommissioning programme agreed prior to licence award will benefit MSP as it will ensure that any offshore energy development infrastructure will be decommissioned and removed from the seabed after 25 years when the marine licence expires. This will free up marine space and reduce conflicts with other marine users.



Oil and Gas infrastructure decommissioning

One of main trends in the next 10 years within the North Sea will be the decommissioning of oil and gas infrastructure. The cost implications for hydrocarbon recovery from the mature North Sea basin effects all oil and gas producing countries. Consequently the timing of decommissioning will be similar across the North Sea. However, decommissioning will need to be balanced with the current low oil price and access to infrastructure.

Cessation of production results in an asset entering its decommissioning phase. In the UK for example, the cost of decommissioning is signed off once this has been agreed with the Oil and Gas Authority. Decommissioning costs are based on the tax regimes in place during the life of the asset.  The costs are met by the operator by forward taxation through the reduction in production taxes equivalent to the annual decommissioning charge.

Financial risks associated with operators and their decommissioning commitments are being identified in order to minimise the exposure of the UK Government to the possibility of taking on the financial responsibility as a last resort.  This may result in commercial decommissioning security agreements (DSA) between operators with joint liability for decommissioning of an asset. This could take the form of security held in a trust to cover the operator’s share of the decommissioning costs. 

Platforms are regulated by OSPAR decision 98/3 which has a base case for the complete removal of the platform infrastructure. Derogations do exist for concrete gravity based platform structures and steel jackets above a certain weight threshold. However, pipelines are not covered by decision 98/3 and are left to individual member states to remove. The trans-boundary issues associated with oil and gas infrastructure can be considered in terms of direct and indirect effects.

The hydrocarbon infrastructure that has a direct trans-boundary component will be dominated by pipelines. North Sea pipelines are estimated to be 40,000 km in length making up a network transporting and exporting hydrocarbons, as well as the supply of chemicals and hydraulic fluids. Because of the inter-connectivity of the pipeline network, decommissioning needs to consider how this takes place to ensure the maximum economic recovery of residual hydrocarbons for all countries producing hydrocarbon in the North Sea.

Indirectly, pipeline decommissioning approaches adopted by members states will influence how the residual infrastructure will interact with other legitimate uses of the sea (in particular demersal fishing). Different mitigation methods may be adopted by different member states for the same infrastructure. Consequently fishing safety over the same infrastructure in different sectors of the North Sea may pose different risks to the European fleet operating in the North Sea. Also this information may be recorded differently on different navigation charts or fishing friendly software e.g. Fishsafe. Similar “inconsistencies“ may also arise in relation to decommissioning and maintaining/improving environmental objectives of designated conservation sites resulting from European Directives implemented by member states.

Individual countries have the potential to influence the decommissioning process for certain types of infrastructure. This in turn could influence the expectation of decommissioning across the North sea e.g. Shell’s Brent concrete gravity based platform decommissioning will have implications for other similar structures on the UK Continental Shelf as well as those in Norwegian waters.

Transportation of decommissioned infrastructure could result in vessels passing through national waters in order to reach their final destination. What would happen if the vessel sank or lost control of the towed infrastructure? Would the expectation be to ensure the recovery of the infrastructure from the seabed if it did not pose a threat to other legitimate users of the sea or the environment? How would member states maintain a consistent approach with the recovery of vessels lost in national waters? There are a variety of approaches that could be explored further and adopted, including:

  • Joined up international regulatory consultation for decommissioning decisions involving trans-boundaries.
  • Adopt a more strategic view for decommissioning oil and gas infrastructures, in particular pipelines, across the North Sea and how they would interact with other legitimate users of the sea and marine conservation objectives.
  • Collating and sharing infrastructure data is essential for understanding the scale of the problem and the consequences of regional regulatory decommissioning decisions.
  • Take guidance on managing the recovery of decommissioned infrastructure at sea.
  • Review the transportation requirements for towing infrastructure through national waters in light of the Transocean Drill Rig incident.

Conclusion and effect on MSP

  • Inconsistencies within decommissioning legislation – pipeline decommissioning should be consistent with legislation for decommissioning platforms.
  • Issue for MSP if pipelines are left in-situ. Conflicts with other marine users such as snagging with commercial fishery nets.


Environmental protection of oil spills

Hydrocarbon spills have the potential to extend beyond national boundaries. An oil spill can be managed in a number ways which may differ from one member state to another due to different legislation, country geography (how the spill could impact on different member states e.g. open water or shoreline), different member states may have different prioritisation of environmental receptors within their national waters e.g. fishing may be seen of greater importance than certain environmental receptors, and lastly member states may have different approaches regarding the use of dispersants or maintaining a registered list of dispersant that is different to other member states.

There is a strong link between oil spill risk analysis (OSRA) and MSP where a flow of key information is required for successful management of coastal and marine areas. MSP generates large amounts of data that is vital to OSRA and in turn, OSRA informs MSP on areas of high risk to oil spills. This allows marine planners to redefine planning objectives and relocate marine activities in order to increase the ecosystem’s health and resilience.

A potential approach to can be to apply agreements, such as NorBrit plan (a bilateral contingency plan between the UK and Norway), during oil spill training exercises for trans-boundary incidents to fully engage with the emergency response command structures for other member states.

Conclusion and effect on MSP

  • Oil spills can occur across national boundaries and a co-ordinated action is required across all countries in order to tackle the incident.
  • In terms on MSP, oil spill response and risk analysis forms a critical part of the management of coastal and marine areas.
  • Oil spill risk analysis informs MSP on areas of high risk to oil spills allowing a redefinition of planning objectives and relocation of marine activities.


Brexit links to Energy

The withdrawal of the UK from the EU could impact the UK’s ability to maintain current levels of electricity generation and may make the UK more vulnerable to energy shortages in the event of extreme weather or unplanned generation outages. Trans-boundary issues may arise regarding energy supply, in particular gas. The UK imports approximately 40% of its gas supply principally from Norway and Qatar (LNG). The UK produces 30% of its electricity supply from burning gas. Germany, France and Italy have significant gas storage capacity, much larger than the UK storage capacity. Access to the gas storage in the time of a crisis may become more difficult for the UK as priority will be given to EU member states. The distribution and production of nuclear energy could also be under threat from Brexit forcing alternatives to be considered to ensure the security of energy in the UK. Offshore wind is currently the only renewable source today that has the commercial scaling necessary to deliver the same amount of energy as nuclear plant within the necessary timeframes.

Conclusion and effect on MSP

  • The implications of Brexit are still largely unknown.
  • Transboundary cooperation between EU countries should still be maintained.


Multi-rotor offshore wind turbines

The up-scaling of the conventional single rotor offshore wind turbines to multi-rotor offshore wind turbines has progressed onshore with Denmark’s Vestas single tower with 12 blades mounted on four separate rotors. Plans are beginning to move towards implementing the multi-rotor system offshore with the European project, Innwind, who have designed a concept 20 MW, multi-rotor system comprising of 45 rotors.

Multi-rotor wind turbines have several benefits such as increased energy capture, reduced cost of energy through fewer maintenance sites, fewer foundations causing less environmental impacts such as benthic disturbance and displacement for fish and marine mammal species and reduced extent of electrical interconnectors per installed megawatt of wind farm capacity.

Conclusion and effect on MSP

For MSP, multi-rotor turbines would reduce the footprint and space requirements of offshore wind farms. However they could lead to increased aerial navigation and safety concerns and bird collisions without proper planning and consultation.