Mass electrification

The (relatively) easy part

But the challenges of renewable energy are still daunting

HENRIK POULSEN, boss of Ørsted, a big Danish wind developer formerly known as Dong Energy, has a dream that may scare sailors and seabirds, but warms the hearts of renewable-energy advocates. He reckons there is scope to install 600,000 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind capacity in relatively shallow waters off Europe’s Atlantic, Baltic and North Sea coasts, which could supply 80% of Europe’s electricity. “You could turn the northern seas into one large power factory over the next 10-15 years,” he says.

As yet, only 16,000MW of offshore wind has been installed in Europe, and already people are talking about space constraints, as with onshore wind and solar farms. Partly in response, Norway’s Equinor, an energy company, is using its deepwater-oil technology to build floating wind turbines tethered to the ocean floor, which could be installed far from land in the North Sea, off the west coast of America and in East Asia. So far it has built one 30MW project off the coast of Scotland, and is considering another to power North Sea oilfields. But Mr Poulsen says the cost of floating turbines, up to four times that of fixed ones, may be prohibitive.

The price of offshore wind generated by his turbines, he says, fell by 60% in 2013-17 as they doubled in size to 8-9MW apiece without needing large increases in their foundations,…