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The story behind the first ‘energy island’

By Claire Thomson

Denmark wants to turn it’s North Sea oil exploits into clean energy.

Renewable energy sources are always at the forefront of government discussion as new methods are constantly being discovered to curve the effects of climate change and reduce CO2 emissions. To combat this, a Danish initiative to build the world’s first “energy island” in the North Sea has been given the go-ahead by Denmark’s politicians and government. The artificial island, which is to be built approximately 50 miles to the west of the Jutland peninsula, will have an original area of 120,000 square metres – the equivalent of 18 football pitches – to triple its size in the future if the plan is successful and effective. The island will be protected from storms by a high seawall of three sides, with the fourth side becoming a dock to accommodate ships connecting with the mainland. It is hoped to produce and store enough energy to meet the electricity requirements for three million households across Europe, as well as providing renewable, clean power for industrial use in shipping, aviation, manufacturing, and heavy transport. Costing an estimated £25bn, the island, which will serve as a centre for around 200 giant offshore wind turbines, will be the biggest construction project in Danish history. The government will have a 51% ownership of the island, with the remainder of the stake being held by the private sector.

The concept of a green energy island originated after Denmark committed to reducing its carbon and greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2030 in comparison to the levels of emission in 1990, and to becoming carbon dioxide neutral by 2050. Construction is predicted to commence in 2026, with the next five years being dedicated to negotiating private sector partners, carrying out environmental impact assessments on the seabed, and signing deals to connect the island to other countries. The goal for full operation is 2033, which would help the nation to achieve these ambitious targets.

Denmark’s transition towards more renewable sources of energy under the countries Climate Act will be accompanied by the ceasing of all oil and gas exploitation by Denmark in the North Sea.

According to Professor Jacob Østergaard of the Technical University of Denmark, the island “is and will be a cornerstone in the green transition and the reduction of Danish CO2 emissions.” The energy produced will not only benefit Denmark’s attempt to curve the effects of climate change but will also connect to other neighbouring countries’ electricity grids, such as the UK, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands, although these countries have not yet been confirmed or detailed. Danish Minister for Climate, Dan Jørgensen, stated: “It will make a big contribution to the realisation of the enormous potential for European offshore wind, and I am excited for our future collaboration with other European countries.”

Whilst this project will massively help to reduce the effects of climate change, it is important to consider at what cost. With proper planning and mitigation measures, it is possible to construct offshore wind farms without significantly damaging the environment. However, the risks and negative impacts are somewhat inevitable; the construction of offshore wind farms produces a high magnitude of noise that poses a possible threat to fish and marine mammals, affecting their behaviour, orientation, and communication. The impacts from this noise pollution on these aquatic creatures can include forced movement out of foraging or reproductive areas, temporary hearing loss for marine mammals and fish, as well as tissue damage and often even death for fish.

However, following the construction of wind farms, there is the potential for each wind turbine to support up to four metric tons of shellfish, which consequently attracts other marine wildlife to the area, similarly acting as an artificial reef. A study on offshore wind farms in the Netherlands depicted an increase in the discovery of dolphins within the area of the wind farm in comparison to outside sampling sites. The same study also highlights an increase in seals in the area following the completion of construction, as a result of the newly available food source. The higher abundance of smaller organisms at the bottom of the food chain is expected to attract larger predatory organisms to the wind farm and create a thriving marine ecosystem that may not have been as abundant or dynamic, before or during construction.

The environmental impacts are not the only controversial discussion points surrounding the construction of offshore wind farms and turbines. Moving forward from the Covid-19 pandemic, the economy is already suffering without the green light being given on these enormous projects. On one hand, it cannot be denied that this development will have a plethora of long-term advantages across Europe; however, would it be more beneficial to use the money to support the people in Denmark who have been made redundant, dropped below the poverty line or are genuinely struggling as a result of the pandemic? The industrialisation of coastal shores has caused further debates as the visibility of the wind turbines causes visual pollution, which many residents and tourists will criticise.

From the outside, this concept of an energy island is incredibly advantageous and will play a large and important role in slashing CO2 emissions across Europe. Nevertheless, the efficiency and impacts of this project will not be fully realised until the offshore wind farm is complete and running at full capacity. This is a gamble for the Danish government, and it will be a matter of time before we see whether the risk has paid off and the energy island is a solution to minimise the use of non-renewable energy sources and carbon dioxide emissions.


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