In the icy waters of the North Sea, Denmark is looking for an alternative to heat its harsh winters. And, also, to end its dependence on gas from Russia - a country that has been receiving sanctions from Europe because of the war in Ukraine.
The government of the Scandinavian country announced last week that it seeks to accelerate the construction of an unprecedented energy project created in 2020: the so-called "energy islands".
These are megaconstructions consisting of arrays of wind turbines that will be placed on a kind of artificial island and that will allow Denmark to generate much more energy than is produced by other wind farms in the world.
The Danish government points out that the islands will allow these wind turbines to be placed further offshore and allow the system to distribute power to several countries more efficiently.
This is considered to be the largest construction project in Denmark's history, with an estimated cost of US$34 billion. It was scheduled to be completed in 2030, but after the beginning of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Danish government accelerated the construction work.
"Denmark and Europe must free themselves from Russian fossil fuels as soon as possible," said Climate, Energy and Utilities Minister Dan Jørgensen.
He assured that energy islands are a "green way" to stop funding Putin's war with European money, since, in his opinion, the North Sea has enough wind potential to cover the energy needs of millions of European households.
"This enormous offshore wind potential needs to be harnessed, and so the Danish government is starting preparations to create additional energy islands alongside the ones already planned."
According to official figures, almost 49 percent of the total energy produced by Denmark comes from wind sources. The International Energy Agency estimates that about 16 percent of the country's generation currently relies on Russia (in 2016, share was 34 percent).
Denmark has a long history of harnessing strong offshore winds to produce electricity: it was the first country in the world to build an offshore wind farm in 1991.
Because of the Climate Act passed by Congress in 2019, Copenhagen has committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent by 2030 and be carbon neutral by 2050.
Last December, the government announced that it would shut down all new oil and gas exploration in the North Sea.
The new islands of the North Sea
More than 400 natural islands are part of Denmark, including Greenland, but the country now wants to add artificial islands for energy purposes.
The construction of the first "energy islands" was announced in the mid-2020s.
At the time, the Danish Energy Agency said they would be the first of their kind in the world and that they were looking to exploit the "immense wind resources in the North and Baltic Seas."
"The islands will serve as hubs that can create better connections between power generated from offshore wind energy and the energy systems in the region around the two seas," the agency said.
It is estimated that offshore wind turbines around the islands will be able to provide sustainable electricity to at least five million households.
"The power islands mark the beginning of a new era for electricity generation from offshore wind power," the agency said.
According to the plan, the first part of the project involves the establishment of an artificial island in the North Sea that will serve as a hub for offshore wind farms providing 3 GW of power, with a long-term expansion potential of 10 GW.
The other, smaller hub will be placed in the Baltic Sea on the island of Bornholm and is expected to produce 2 GW of power.
To produce 1 GW currently requires approximately 3,125 million photovoltaic panels, equivalent to the power of 110 million LED bulbs, according to data from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Equal, but different
The two energy islands are based on the same fundamental concept, but they will not be identical.
The Baltic Sea hub will be established on an existing island, which means that it will be on land: They define it as an "island within an island.
The North Sea hub will be built on an artificial island, originally planned to be the size of 18 soccer fields, but redesigned to be three times larger.
Since the project is "critical infrastructure" for the country, the government has announced that it will control at least 50.1% of the islands, and the rest will be left to private companies.
The project plans to supply electricity not only to the Danes, but also to the power grids of other neighboring countries.
Professor Jacob Ostergaard of the Technical University of Denmark told the BBC last year that countries like Belgium, the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands could also benefit.
A new concept
Ostergaard notes that the idea of energy islands is a "revolutionary" concept.
"It is the next big step for the Danish wind turbine industry. We led onshore, then took the step offshore and now we are taking the next step with power islands, to keep the Danish industry in a pioneering position," he opines.
Currently, most countries that use wind sources do so by means of isolated turbine farms, which supply power directly to the power grid.
According to the Danish Energy Agency, with the creation of the islands, the wind turbines can be placed further offshore and distribute the electricity generated to various countries more efficiently.
The islands serve as hubs, or sustainable energy plants, that collect electricity from offshore wind farms and distribute it to the power grid.
"This allows electricity from an area with many wind resources to be more easily directed to the areas that need it most, while ensuring that the energy generated by the turbines is used in the most efficient way possible in terms of electricity demand."
The project, however, has also received a number of question marks, mainly because of its high cost - the highest Denmark has ever paid for a project.
Local energy companies, such as Ørsted, have also questioned the effectiveness of building an artificial island, a method never before explored.
Another criticism is about the great distance of the islands to the coast, which can make operations difficult, mainly due to climatic conditions and the impact on the marine ecosystem.
The possibility of the country completing the work on time or speeding it up, as the Ministry of Energy has already requested, was also questioned due to the size of the project.
Project for Europe
It is not clear at the moment how or where the new islands announced last week by the Danish government will look like, but they have said that their goal is to contribute to the flow of energy to Europe.
Denmark hopes to discuss the potential expansion of the energy islands with representatives from other EU countries on May 18, when a ministerial meeting will be held in Esbjerg, in the south of the country, on energy potential in the North Sea.
"The EU needs to become independent from Russian fossil fuels as soon as possible and the best way forward is for European countries to work together to accelerate renewable energy works in the North Sea," says the Danish energy minister.
Last November, the European Union announced plans to increase the bloc's offshore wind capacity 25-fold by 2050 and five-fold by 2030.
Renewable energies ??provide about one-third of the bloc's current electricity needs.
According to EU data, offshore wind power currently supplies about 12 gigawatts to countries in the region.