Blue Energy: Why an Energy Transition Has to Start Offshore

By Gesine Meissner, Member of the European Parliament
Spring 2015

The German Energy Transition or Energiewende is a gigantic project to shift from nuclear energy towards renewable energies. In fact, so far it is mostly a shift towards one of the least sustainable forms of energy: coal.

In addition it is happening at a time when Europe is discussing about reducing its dependence of gas-imports from Russia due to the latest political developments. So, if we consider the German Energiewende as a gigantic project a European shift towards renewable energies will be a by far bigger one. How can it be done?

One step is to reduce our energy consumption. The EU aims at energy savings of 20% by 2020 and 30% by 2030. A lot of attention is paid to reduce the consumption per household, in particular by improving the insulation of our homes and by promoting energy efficient products. But will that be sufficient? It is very unlikely.

But what are our other options? Many people believe in wind energy after the crisis of the solar industry and the shortage of rare earths. However, one of the biggest problems we are facing in Germany, but many other countries too, is where to build those wind turbines.

Countries like Denmark, Germany and the United Kingdom are shifting more and more to build them offshore. Thanks to the strong winds in the North Sea those wind farms have the potential to play a very important role. However, also offshore those farms need a lot of space and it is becoming more and more obvious that the challenge of the next years will be to organise the different demands for space in our seas and oceans. In the first multination approach in the world the European Union decided to encourage all Member States to come up with maritime spatial plans. The directive on maritime spatial planning was adopted last year and is currently implemented in the Member States. It will be a key tool to organize exclusive economic zones of the Member States more efficiently. It is obvious that the energy transition is asking for a general shift in our procedures of policy planning and space will play a crucial role.

It is true that this is a challenge but I also see it as a big chance not to make the same mistakes at sea which we made so often on land. So far our oceans and seas are already providing us with the fish we eat and are connecting our industries with the rest of the world. But they bear a greater potential. We are already exploiting oil and gas fields, in particular in the North Sea. But there is more. Offshore wind farms will grow and I am convinced that wave and tidal energy has the chance to play a bigger role in the future. We are at the beginning of the process of discovering the great potential of our seas and oceans but we have to be careful. We don’t know as much about the seas as we do about the land. An energy transition offshore can only work in a sustainable way. Therefore, we need tools like maritime spatial planning to divide the space between the various actors and to take the sensitivity and vulnerability of the marine ecosystems properly into account.

But this can only be one tool within a greater integrated maritime policy for a blue growth. The EU is a forerunner in the field of maritime policy and I would like to encourage the new Commission strongly to continue its work of the last years. Together with my colleagues of the European Parliament Intergroup Seas, Rivers, Islands and Coastal Areas I will push in the next years for an ambitious maritime agenda, from maritime transport or marine protection to offshore energy.

To reduce Europe’s dependency of energy imports we need to improve our internal market and to build up proper transnational grids. One of the first challenges will be to connect the offshore wind farms and to establish a North Seas Offshore grid in one of the busiest seas in the world. However, now is the moment to do it and to overcome national resistance in order to improve transnational co-operation. Neither fish nor water knows boarders and it is up the EU and its Member States to make it the same for energy. For an European energy transition as well as for the German Energiewende the success will depend on whether we succeed in establishing a strong blue energy sector or not.

Member of the European Parliament.

In 2009, Gesine Meissner became a member of the European Parliament. She is currently the coordinator of the ALDE Group on the Committee on Transport and Tourism and a substitute member in the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee. Mrs Meissner is also a member of the EU-Mexico and Euro-Latin America Delegations. Since January 2015 Gesine Meissner is President of the European Parliament Intergroup Seas, Rivers, Islands and Coastal Areas.

She is a member of the council of the ALDE party and the federal executive board of the German Free Democratic party (FDP). In November 2013, she was elected as Vice President of the ALDE Party Gender Equality Network.

Before joining the European Parliament, Gesine Meissner was a member of the regional Parliament of Lower Saxony where she was chairing the Committee on Health and Social Affairs from 2003 to 2009.

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