Video: It’s Time to Start Talking Spatial


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For a long time, the development of offshore wind was little contested by other sea uses in the North Sea. Whilst there were objections from fishermen due to limiting their access to sea space and tourism representatives concerned by visual impacts on the coast, few spatial conflicts were the order of the day. But this will change in the coming decade. The increasing amount of offshore wind farms, and new technologies such as floating offshore wind farms, will demand more and more space in the North Sea. Space which initially was used by fishing or shipping or is of high importance for marine wildlife. For offshore wind developers, it is therefore important to think and talk spatially, to prevent conflicts and enhance cooperation with other sea uses. This is most effective through active participation in different Maritime Spatial Planning processes.

Access to the same locations by incompatible uses, due to similar required space characteristics, often leads users to compete. This incompatibility between competing maritime uses results in offshore wind seeking to establish exclusive access to ocean space. Increased claims for exclusive use of marine space from offshore wind farms results in significant competition amongst stakeholders. This is causing spatial conflicts. To deal with these potential conflicts, management authorities have been developing Maritime Spatial Plans. These plans aim to accommodate all sea uses in the best possible way. In these plans, sufficient space for new offshore wind farms is often identified in favourable sites for, for example, strong winds and shallow water. However, wind farms can only be developed where any negative effects on other sea uses are at acceptable levels. With the exception of Norway and Sweden, most countries in the North Sea have planned and designated spatial areas for offshore renewable energy in one form or another.

Many offshore wind organisations do not realise the enormous spatial puzzle a planner has to solve before actually being able to designate an area for offshore wind. This puzzle can only be solved if the planner has sufficient expert information. Information about what the sector wants now, but also in the near and far future. The planner needs to understand the so called ‘spatial implications’ of a certain offshore wind development. For example, how will the increased energy policy targets influence the total sea space required for offshore wind production? But also, what innovations are happening in the sector that can benefit society and how might this influence decisions? This could lead to questions such as: Do we still need to look at sea depth when floating wind farms can be developed soon? And how do the new offshore wind farms and innovations influence the potential development of a transnational North Sea energy grid?

Offshore wind has become a competitive renewable energy source in North Sea countries and it has been steadily growing since the early 2000s with a cumulative total installed capacity of 15.8 GW in Europe. Most European offshore wind installations (71%) are situated in the North Sea. However, because of the increasing spatial demands from users of the marine environment, it is time for the renewables sector to start thinking and talking in spatial terms. How do we reduced conflicts with other sea uses, and how can we work together? If the sector is able to work together and provide solutions for these conflicts, the growth potential for offshore wind will increase significantly.

Understanding spatial implications in NorthSEE

Maritime spatial planners develop plans for their own national or regional sea space. However, since 2015, a new EU-funded project, called NorthSEE[1], had been working on connecting the marine planners across the North Sea. Thereby the project aims for domestic plans to be better aligned with each other. Furthermore, on offshore energy, the NorthSEE project is trying to understand and obtain the spatial information of the offshore wind energy sector, so it can assist planners and give them a better base for their decisions. There is already a long tradition of regional energy cooperation in the North Sea, with many different organisations and forums being active (Figure 2). However, until now, these organisations have given limited consideration to spatial planning aspects of their work.

The NorthSEE project has produced a report called ‘Status Quo and future trends of offshore energy production from an MSP perspective’. In this report, the collected information on energy policies and goals form a base for broadly predicting the space needed in the sea for offshore wind energy (3,500 km² by 2020 and over 8,000 km² by 2030). Accommodating these spatial needs will result in an increasing number of conflicts between offshore wind and other maritime users in the coming decade and could potentially affect the marine environment in a negative way. The report also defines several industry trends, which might change the spatial needs of the sector. Examples are larger, more powerful wind turbines further offshore in deeper waters. Recent Scottish projects such as Hywind[2] and Kincardine[3] have also introduced floating wind which has the advantage of unlocking deeper water sites and a significantly greater wind resource. There are also other technological advancements involving the up-scaling of the conventional single rotor offshore wind turbines to multi-rotor offshore wind turbines. This exploratory work on industry trends is a first step towards understanding the spatial effects of innovations. However, more expert input is required to get a better understanding and improve the opportunities.

Understanding the link between offshore wind and Maritime Spatial Planning

Besides NorthSEE, other groups are also dealing with the spatial implications of offshore wind in the North Sea (and beyond). The EU MSP platform has developed an offshore wind summary document[4] which provides an easy to understand summary of the relationship between offshore wind and Maritime Spatial Planning. It gives an understanding of the possible conflicts and synergies with other sea uses, and recommends how to integrate offshore wind developments into a maritime spatial plan.

Furthermore, another project, called BalticLINes, has conducted research about the current and future designs of offshore wind farms[5] relevant for Maritime Spatial Planning. The research focussed on the national planning approaches and standards, and the layout of realised offshore wind parks. It shows that the average corrected capacity density can vary largely between offshore wind farms (18.7 MW/km² in Nordergunde, Germany to 3.1 MW/km² in DanTysk, DE), which is largely explained by regulatory frameworks of the countries and the year of construction. The average corrected capacity density in the North Sea lays on 6.0 MW/km². The research further showed that for the analysed wind farms, turbine spacing shows to be the dominant driver of capacity density. That means, wind farms with high capacity densities are characterized by low distances between wind turbines.

Conflict prevention or solutions

The growth in the offshore wind sector will increase the number of conflicts in the coming years. The most common spatial conflict between two sea uses in the North Sea are between offshore wind parks and shipping. At the moment, countries apply different ‘spatial and technical planning criteria’ for offshore wind developments. Every country deals in their own way with safety buffer zones around offshore wind farms to avoid collisions with shipping and fishing vessels, maximum distance of wind farms to shore and spatial restrictions on developing offshore wind farms in areas of environmental protection (Figure 3). To get a better understanding of this, the NorthSEE project researched the different approaches in more detail and developed recommendations for further harmonization and cooperation. If these were to be implemented, the offshore wind sector would benefit from a clearer set of similar rules applicable to all offshore wind parks in the North Sea. It is now up to each country to decide whether the recommendations made will be adopted.

Think spatial, talk spatial

Maritime spatial planners want the offshore wind energy sector to start thinking more spatially. This can prevent potential conflicts and provide new opportunities with other sea uses. However, it is not only about thinking, but also about talking spatially. Sector representatives need to become more active in maritime spatial planning processes, bring in their knowledge and discussing limitations and opportunities. Offshore wind experts need to be clearer about the spatial implications of their plans and innovations, so they can be better integrated into the planning processes.

Also, the NorthSEE project needs a more active involvement of the offshore wind sector in its activities. In its research, the project has done exploratory work on offshore renewable energy from a spatial perspective, but found many uncertainties. More expert knowledge and data is required. To get this knowledge, the project provides an opportunity for industry to attend and take part in an energy workshop and interactive computer simulation game sessions called The Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) Challenge Game 2050[6]. The game gives participants an insight in the role of maritime spatial planning and the diverse challenges of sustainable planning with a focus on offshore energy production and distribution. It builds an understanding of the spirit of collaboration and sparks lively discussions. energy in MSP and spatial implications of offshore energy trends.

You can find more information on the NorthSEE project at The NorthSEE project is supported by the North Sea Region Programme of the European Regional Development Fund of the European Union.

Note: The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Offshore WIND.