What are "energy islands", Denmark's revolutionary project to produce electricity for Europe and not depend on Russian gas?
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In the icy waters of the North Sea, Denmark is looking for an alternative to warm up in its harsh winters.
And also to end its dependence on Russian gas.
The government of the Scandinavian country announced last week that it seeks to accelerate the construction of an unprecedented energy project that had already been announced in 2020: the so-called "energy islands".
These are mega-constructions made up of sets of wind turbines that will be placed on a kind of artificial islands and that, according to the projects, will allow Denmark to generate much more energy than that produced by other wind farms in the world.
It is considered the largest construction project in Danish history, with an estimated cost of US$34 billion.
It was scheduled to be completed by 2030; but, following the start of Russia's invasion against Ukraine, the Danish government announced that it will seek to accelerate its completion as a European alternative to Russian gas and oil.
"Denmark and Europe must free themselves from Russian fossil fuels as quickly as possible," Climate, Energy and Utilities Minister Dan Jørgensen said in a statement.
The official assured that energy islands are a "green way" to stop financing Putin's war with European money, given that, in his view, the North Sea has enough wind energy potential to cover the energy needs of millions of European households.
"This large offshore wind potential must be tapped, and the Danish government is therefore starting preparations to create additional energy islands alongside those already planned," he added.
According to official data, almost 49% of the total energy Denmark produces comes from wind sources.
Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency estimates that about 16% of the country's generation currently depends on Russia.
Denmark has a long history of harnessing strong offshore winds to produce electricity.
In fact, it wasthe first country in the world to build an offshore wind farm in 1991.
Under the Climate Act passed by Congress in 2019, Copenhagen committed to a 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and to be carbon neutral by 2050.
Last December, the government announced that it would end all new oil and gas exploration in the North Sea.
The new North Sea islands
More than 400 natural islands are part of Denmark, including Greenland, but the country now wants to add artificial ones for energy purposes.
The construction of the first "energy islands" were announced in mid-2020.
Then, the Danish Energy Agency said they would be the first of their kind in the world and sought to exploit the "immense wind resources in the North and Baltic Seas."
"The islands will serve as hubs that can create better connections between energy generated from offshore wind power and the power systems in the region around the two seas," it said.
It was then estimated that offshore wind turbines around the islands will be able to supply green electricity to at least five million homes.
"The energy islands mark the beginning of a new era for electricity generation from offshore wind," 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 supplying 3 GW of power, with a long-term expansion potential of 10 GW.
The other, smaller one will be placed in theBaltic Sea, on the island of Bornholm, and is expected to produce 2 GW of power.
To give you an idea, producing 1 GW requires approximately 3.125 million photovoltaic panels today and is the amount of energy that would be consumed by 110 million LED light bulbs, according to U.S. Department of Energy data.
Same, but different
The two energy islands are based on the same concept, but they will not be identical.
The one in the Baltic Sea will be established on an existing island, which means it will be located on land: they define it as an "island within the island".
The one in the North Sea, however, will be built on an artificial island, which is originally planned to be the size of 18 soccer fields, but is projected to be three times as large.
Since it will be considered "critical infrastructure" for the country, the government announced that it will control at least 50.1% of the islands, while the rest will go 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 such as Belgium, the UK, Germany and the Netherlands could also benefit.
A new concept
Ostergaard points out that the idea of energy islands is a "revolutionary" concept.
"It's the next big step for the Danish wind turbine industry. We led onshore, then we took the step offshore and now we are taking the step with energy islands, so it will keep the Danish industry in a pioneering position," he says.
Currently, most countries that use wind sources do so through isolated turbine farms that supply power directly to the grid.
According to the Danish Energy Agency, with the creation of islands, wind turbines can be placed further away from the coast and distribute the electricity they generate among several countries more efficiently.
"The islands serve as hubs, or green power plants, that collect electricity from surrounding offshore wind farms and distribute it to the grid," the agency says.
"This allows electricity from an area with vast wind resources to be more easily directed to the areas that need it most, while ensuring that the power generated by the turbines is used in the most efficient way possible in terms of electricity demand," it adds.
The project, however, has also been questioned several times, mainly because of its high cost, the highest Denmark has ever paid for construction.
Local energy companies, such as Ørsted, have also questioned the effectiveness of building an artificial island, a method never before explored for this purpose.
They have also criticized the considerable distance from the coast where they will be located, which could hinder their operations, especially due to weather conditions and the impact it could have on the marine ecosystem.
The possibility that the country will be able to complete construction on time or that it can accelerate it, as now requested by the Ministry of Energy, has also been questioned due to the magnitude 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 be located, but it said they are intended to contribute to the energy flow to Europe.
Denmark expects to discuss the potential expansion of the energy islands with representatives from other European Union countries on May 18, when a ministerial meeting on energy possibilities in the North Sea will take place in Esbjerg, in the south of the country.
"The EU must become independent of Russian fossil fuels as quickly as possible and the best way forward is for European countries to work together to increase and accelerate the construction of renewable energy in the North Sea," said the Danish energy minister.
Last November, the European Union announced plans for a 25-fold increase in the bloc's offshore wind capacity by 2050 and a five-fold increase by 2030.
Renewables provide about one-third of the bloc's current electricity needs.
According to EU data, offshore wind currently supplies about 12 gigawatts to countries in the area.