Main findings

1. Current grid and linear energy infrastructure is nationally focused and largely disconnected with only some transnational coordination.

This transnational coordination is in the form of integrated connection of a number of offshore wind parks and between nations in the development of interconnectors. As stated by WindEurope in their wind energy scenarios, in order to meet 2030 renewable energy and climate change targets, there will need to be efficient and improved power interconnections between Member States. This will require extensive coordination between NSR countries for the dream of a North Sea offshore grid to become a reality.


2. The main transnational drivers that are relevant for NSR countries are interconnection demand and increased grid connection points. The main barriers are grid connectivity and grid integration. 

The drivers will facilitate not only the flow of offshore renewable energy back to National onshore grids but also flow of energy across borders. There are also numerous benefits of an offshore grid such as allowing countries such as the Netherlands, Germany and the UK, to develop portions of their EEZ’s that are further from shore, increasing their potential installed capacity. The barriers are caused by lack of transnational grid development, interconnectors and landfall points, which are already at full capacity. 


3. Denmark currently has the most interconnector cables in the NSR and Belgium has the least. This has important implications for energy security and stability but is also dependent upon current energy requirements and future demand. 

Due to Denmark having the most interconnectors, it can therefore be deemed to have a higher level of energy security. The least interconnected country is Belgium with the fewest existing and planned interconnectors between countries. Sweden and Norway are beginning to catch up in the medium term and the UK and Germany have more planned interconnectors in the future.


4. Differences exist in the level of established grid planning including planning provisions between NSR countries.

Germany has a more established and focused approach to grid planning where they currently have an offshore grid development plan. However this only covers installations until 2025, and then this will be replaced by the spatial offshore grid plan which will be a more comprehensive planning tool to bring spatial and chronological planning of offshore wind farms and grid connections together. However, the Netherlands and Scotland’s approach to grid planning is less established than the German approach and only features as a chapter rather than a dedicated grid plan. Considering MSPs under preparation, for example Sweden and Denmark, not all plans include regulations for offshore energy cables. Swedish MSP has a more guiding character and therefore does not include any spatial rules for electricity cables. Denmark is at a very early stage of their MSP and have not yet decided how to treat electricity cables in their national MSP.


5. Third party and generator TSO models are better suited to support the evolution towards larger scale offshore wind farms that are increasingly developed farther out to sea, while the TSO model is better suited to support the evolution towards cross-border offshore grid projects.

There needs to be a trade-off between the two as there are currently no existing regulatory models that can fulfil all the requirements. It was suggested by the author that this trade-off has to be made at the regional or EU level because different national regulatory frameworks are incompatible when applied to a cross-border offshore grid project.


6. Differences exist between NSR countries in terms of planning criteria and between criteria being Government-led or Industry-led.

Grid planning differs between North Sea countries, with Germany having well-established planning criteria compared to limited criteria in other NSR countries. There is also a difference between criteria being Government-led or Industry-led. For example, in Germany, the Government have defined planning principles and criteria for both offshore wind farms, grid connection systems and for interconnectors in their designated Spatial Offshore Grid Plan, however they both follow similar principles. On the other hand, in Scotland planning principles are classed more as ‘rules of thumb’ by Industry and adherence to the principles is dependent on risk.


7. UK and Germany have not yet reached the 10% interconnection target for 2020 and the UK may not meet the 15% interconnection target by 2030. 

Although NSR countries demonstrate considerable differences in terms of their energy mix, size of energy market and geographical location, which influence their interconnectivity potential and needs makes it challenging to determine future interconnector demand, this evidence suggests that the UK in particular needs to increase its interconnector capacity. It is the aim of PCI’s such as, for example, the NorthConnect and North Sea Link interconnectors to help meet the target for the UK.


8. Further development of oil and gas pipelines expected in Scotland, Norway and the Netherlands with decommissioning well underway but still the extension of new pipelines. However, the number of new pipelines is expected to stabilise after 2020.

The decommissioning of oil and gas pipelines has given rise to an opportunity which can be used to help combat climate change. CO2can be captured and stored in decommissioned pipelines, a technique called Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). 


9. The role of MSP in grid development involves identifying areas of least constraint to locate cable corridors which match up offshore energy resource to suitable grid connection points on land, whilst carefully routing around environmentally sensitive areas.


10. MSP will become more important as coastal space in the (southern) North Sea becomes more congested, priority planning and spatial designations (e.g. cable corridors) will be required.


11. There is currently no over-arching regulatory regime facilitating the association of offshore grid with offshore renewable projects across national sea basins in the NSR.

Whereas onshore grid networks are well established and operate with national regulations and regulatory bodies in place, offshore grid is less established. A transnational regulatory framework is needed and in establishing this, it is important to think of new solutions tailored for offshore grid development and/or attempt to extend national onshore regulatory regimes to offshore.


12. The level of renewable generation, in particular, the level and location of offshore renewables in projections, is likely to be the parameter with the most significant impact in determining offshore grid configurations and planning.


13. To date most wind parks in the North Sea have been connected to shore by an individual electricity cable, a so-called ‘radial’ connection, but a meshed, hub/interconnector or integrated approach may be the way toward achieving transnational coordination of a North Sea offshore grid.

Radial connection is characterised by a limited need for coordination and ad-hoc investment. In the hub/interconnector approach, the interconnectors can be seen as the building blocks of a North Sea Offshore Grid, connecting the electricity grids of the North Seas countries with one another. The integrated approach is a more economical way to create a combined approach, however the development of combined solutions would require a high level of international coordination.


14. Differences in planning approaches regarding cable routing and gates for transnational interconnectors between neighbouring countries (“over-planning vs “non-planning”) could lead to conflicts.

This is potentially the situation between Germany and neighbouring countries as Germany has strictly defined cable routes for entering their EEZ, whilst other countries have no defined gates or cable corridors.


15. In terms of coherence links between cables and grid systems and other marine users within the NSR and spatial overlap, fishing, shipping and recreation don’t overlap with cables when properly buried or protected but sediment extraction and cultural heritage do overlap. 


16. NSR needs more landfall points in the Northern North Sea order to meet future needs and more interconnectors are required in the UK and Germany to help them achieve their 2020 and 2030 interconnection targets. However, despite higher interconnection demand in the future, there might be less of a requirement for landfall points if a meshed or more integrated grid solution is implemented. 

As a general observation, there are more landfall points in the Southern North Sea compared to the Northern North Sea which reflects the geographical distance between the UK and the rest of Europe. There is especially a lack down the east coast of the UK, in particular Scotland’s east coast and also on Germany’s North Sea coast. These areas could be proposals for more landfall points, especially because the UK and Germany are two of the main producers of offshore wind energy. However the number of landfall points is related to the grid solution applied and generally radial connections require more landfall points compared to meshed or integrated grid connections.