Why the Baltic Sea Is the Key to Green Transformation

The EU’s net-zero goal by 2050 essentially means that it wants to cut greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible. A tall order, and a major component of that will require more renewables like wind and solar, among others.

Arkona Offshore Wind Park. In this aerial view wind turbines stand at the recently-inaugurated Arkona offshore wind park in the Baltic Sea on June 5, 2019 off the coast of Sassnitz, Germany. The Arkona wind park, operated by E.ON, consists of 60 wind turbines that generate a total of 385 MW of electricity. Germany has made a strong push towards renewable energy sources over the last decade and recently announced a timetable for ending German coal-based electricity production
Arkona offshore wind park in the Baltic Sea off the coast of Sassnitz, Germany. Photo: Axel Schmidt / Getty Images

It has always been about energy since the Industrial Revolution kicked off during the 18th century. The main source of all our power generation has primarily been fossil fuels, coal, and eventually oil. Yet, with the onset of climate change and evidence that our planet is suffering under the impact of our voracious habit of fossil fuel burning, many organizations and governments began pushing for a change.

Major plans ahead for the green transformation

Since Europe was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, it’s also a good spot to find some solutions. There are many challenges ahead, and when we look at electricity production on a global scale, there is still a mountain to climb.

Some bad news at the start. If we compare the whole world, those dirty fossil fuels, i.e., coal and gas, still account for a majority of our electricity production. In fact, in 2021, coal was still in first place, accounting for 36.3 % of electricity production, and gas came in second with 22.74%. Although renewables will continue to grow as part of our power (and energy) mix, the global numbers are still very low. If we look at the same report, wind comes in at 6.65% and solar at 3.68 %. It may seem like fossil fuels are still king, but it depends on where you look. The EU certainly has ambitious climate goals, and rightly so. It’s not just about climate change; the whole Green Deal and decarbonization is also a way to guarantee energy security.

Interestingly, if we look at the EU, there is a very different pattern. In fact, in 2020, renewable energy sources accounted for 39% of the electricity and actually overtook fossil fuels -which stood at 36% – as the main power source.

Now let’s break down that data even further. From the figures from the EU above, the highest share of renewables came from wind turbines at 14%. Naturally, to attain the ambitious net-zero goals, all forms of renewables have to be expanded. That includes hydropower, solar, and biofuels. It’s also noteworthy that the EU voted last summer to include nuclear energy in its renewable and sustainability mix.

It’s all about the winds of change

Without a doubt, wind power will be a massive component of what’s needed. So where will these turbines be built, and what’s the state of play? Let’s take a look now at the Three Seas region more closely. One of those bodies of water which makes up the eponymous region is the Baltic Sea, and this vital area will be crucial for each nation bordering it and Europe as a whole. There’s immense potential in the Baltic Sea for offshore wind turbines. This could propel the countries in the region, like Poland, Lithuania, and others, to the forefront of the energy transition and be a major boon to business development and energy security. Eight European Union countries bordering the Baltic Sea want to beef up offshore wind capacity sevenfold to 20 GW by 2030. That’s what they pledged at a summit in August of last year.

Overall the Baltic Sea offers ideal conditions for the construction and expansion of offshore wind farms. The wind speeds are optimal, and there is also the topographical advantage of depth which all combine to make it feasible to scale more wind farms and turbines in this strategic sea. We’ve looked at the cumulative potential, which is already a central point that should be taken seriously and expanded upon. It’s also an advantage to a key nation in the region.

Poland stands to gain as it is estimated that its offshore wind market will amount to a whopping 28 GW by 2050. This is a considerable opportunity for the nation as it has the largest OWF market in the Baltic Sea. Though not always acknowledged by other western European nations when it comes to energy transformation, it is perhaps a moment for investors and policymakers to admit Poland’s vast potential in this new energy capacity. And that matters for the region and Europe.

For the moment, much needs to be done, and time is of the essence. In particular, due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the entire continent is scrambling to decouple from Russian energy dependence and secure a greener future. If we assess the current capacity, the Baltic Sea has around 2.8 gigawatts of offshore wind potential installed. Furthermore, most of that capacity is focused on German and Danish territorial waters. Yet, each of the nations, including Lithuania, Poland, Estonia, and Latvia, all have significant ambitions and potential to scale their capacity.

Investment and job growth

Developing offshore wind farms is also a major opportunity for the business and the economy. According to some Polish reports, this could see the creation of 60,000-80,000 direct and indirect jobs by 2040. In addition to a burgeoning wind power sector with employees from across the country, the government in Warsaw would also benefit from billions of euros from tax revenue.

There’s also the investor factor. Multinationals and expertise would be needed to build up, sustain and scale this massive infrastructure which would secure additional capital and technology for Poland. However, we must remember that this is not just a sole enterprise. The dimension of this potential can propel the whole region forward. There will be cooperation and collaboration at the core of this project. The nations of the Baltic Sea will -and already have- set joint goals. The power infrastructure, wind farms, relays, and monitoring will all be connected and benefit all those involved. The next advantage is that, as a region, this will also secure greater interoperability, which is vital to the endeavor.

As wind farms and wind turbines are scaled and expanded across the Baltic, it must also be stated that another level of collaboration will be crucial to remember. The various components of the turbines are highly technical, and like anything technical, they will require maintenance but also constant surveillance and monitoring. The potential for electrical power production is not in doubt, but like any other power plant, wind turbines will be part of what is known as critical infrastructure. Therefore, they are high-level targets for hackers and cyber criminals who want to disrupt and exploit them.

The Baltic Sea as an energy source

 The remoteness in the open sea, the risk of collision for ships, and the high reliance on IT and remote connections will be challenges that all involved need to take seriously to guarantee operations and safety. Yet, at the same time, this will also be another opportunity to incorporate the latest cybersecurity tools and practices to safeguard these vital assets in our energy transformation. We have come a long way since the Industrial Revolution, and we are entering a new kind of energy evolution.

Europe is at a critical moment in securing its energy future, and the Baltic Sea holds a vast untapped renewable energy source. If done the right way, investment and collaboration will make nations like Poland thrive, and in turn, this will benefit the whole of Europe. Ultimately it will be another hallmark of the vital importance the Three Seas region plays in our world and where more potential lies ahead.

Sascha Fahrbach

Journalist, TV host and seasoned Cybersecurity Evangelist. A Third Culture Kid raised in the US who has lived in seven countries and is currently based in Warsaw.

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