Gasunie Targets N Sea Power Hub
Gasunie, the Dutch gas infrastructure group, is looking to deepen its involvement in the green economy by co-investing in an offshore wind power hub.
Already an investor in a Dutch power-to-gas project that will use electrolysis to produce hydrogen (or else, synthetic gas) to be fed into the public gas supply, Gasunie is now going one stage further.
It announced September 13 is to become the fourth member of a consortium which now comprises Dutch state power grid operator TenneT's subsidiaries in Netherlands and Germany, plus Danish counterpart Energinet. Together they will jointly study and investigate the possible development of a large European energy supply system in the North Sea, with the aim of realising from 2030-2050 a North Sea Wind Power Hub.
“By developing the North Sea Wind Power Hub, which will be able to support offshore wind farms with a total capacity of 100 gigawatts, the consortium wants to make the European objectives feasible as well as affordable; it will supply a substantial part of Europe's future sustainable power,” it said.
The plan calls for the construction of one or more so-called 'Power Link Islands' in the central North Sea (possibly the Dogger Bank), with interconnections to the countries bordering the North Sea. Such artificial islands will be situated at a location with frequent high wind speeds, so ideal for wind turbines. The Power Link island would also connect several offshore windfarms, and its location would facilitate transmission of wind‑generated electricity via direct-current connections to the North Sea countries: Netherlands, Belgium, UK, Norway, Germany, and Denmark. The transmission cables would also simultaneously serve as interconnectors between these markets.
“In addition, the power can be converted to hydrogen for large scale transport to shore, storage or buffering purposes,” noted Gasunie.
Conversion to hydrogen is expected to play an important role in the North Sea Wind Power Hub system, it adds, as it will enable wind-generated energy to be stored in the form of a gas close to remote offshore sources, then brought ashore via existing offshore gas infrastructure.
Gasunie and its three partners are understood to be primarily interested in directly investing in transmission, and not wind generation, capacity. It argues that, in order to achieve the 2015 Paris climate accord’s targets, 230 GW of offshore wind energy capacity needs to be developed in Europe, of which 180 GW in the North Sea. On the UK's Dogger Bank, for instance, Statoil, Germany's Innogy and UK utility SSE are developing massive windfarms; but many more windfarms already operate across the North Sea in several countries.
Gasunie Needs to Diversify
What its statement does not dwell on is that Gasunie’s extensive onshore infrastructure is likely to become under-used, should natural gas demand decline, without being substituted by such ‘green’ hydrogen. The company’s strategy is threatened by the possibility that a court in two months might conceivably order a further reduction (or halt) to production at the giant Groningen gas field.
Dutch research institute TNO’s recent report points to uncertainty over whether further restrictions in Groningen output may simply stem Dutch gas demand, limiting gas’ transition role to a lower carbon economy, or might instead lead to rapid [Russian and LNG] import substitution.
Energinet and Gasunie are already among seven European gas grid operators in the loose ‘Green Gas Initiative’, launched about five years ago, that aims to achieve a “carbon neutral gas supply in 2050” and which published its first report last year.
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