The roll-out of an offshore grid

Column by Albert van der Hem

My heart is with offshore wind. I have been active in that sector for eleven years and developed Belwind and Sheringham Shoal with a team of fifteen people when I worked at Econcern. Both farms now produce renewable energy for more than 500,000 Belgian and British households. Conclusion: with offshore wind one can make a difference. This is also recognized in the Dutch Energy Agreement. The cost price should decrease, and I do not know if that will happen soon enough, but I do see a lot of commitment from all parties to realize these cost reductions.

The government takes its share by clustering and coordinating the deployment of offshore wind. Just like they do in Denmark. The Ministry of Economic Affairs will provide soil, wind and wave data of the plots and organize a tender. This leads to competitive biddings, with a cost reducing effect. In this system the risks are optimally distributed between government and industry.

In terms of the grid connection, I have confidence in TenneT as the designated network manager at sea. Sheringham Shoal was developed with its own grid connection.

During the development of that project I sometimes said: "We are developing two projects: a wind turbine project and a grid connection project. For Sheringham Shoal we constructed a connection of nearly a hundred miles across land, past dozens of villages, with a project value of eighty million euro. We negotiated with each landowner, and with Sir Michael, the owner of the property where we were supposed to land, it took two years. A terrible job, but as a developer you were in control. In those days, I would not have given this responsibility to the National Grid.

Why do I have faith in TenneT? Firstly, nowadays every developer cannot go through the villages of Wijk aan Zee en Velsen individually. This must be coordinated otherwise the people in those villages will revolt. But there are also rational arguments. In 2010, the Taskforce Wind Energy at Sea estimated that to save 500 to 600 million euros on the subsidy 'Stimulating Sustainable Energy' (SDE) a grid connection should be realised by TenneT. This would be realised through lower capital costs because of a 40-year depreciation period and a purchasing advantage of approximately ten per cent for TenneT through large-scale procurement.

Furthermore, the structured approach of the rollout provides TenneT with the opportunity deploy standardized substations of 700 MW each. This also will create a cost reduction.

Of course it is essential to know where and when the new wind farms can be connected to the grid. The first question is no problem, but the second is very important to answer. In Germany, TenneT 'gained a lot of experience' also bad experiences and with this experience I am confident that it will go better in the Netherlands. Some say that Tennet should not deploy the grid at sea, but I disagree. If there is one party that paid its dues in Germany, it was TenneT. My opinion therefore is, let Tennet be responsible as long as developers can count on that the grid connection is realised before the commissioning of wind turbines and at a reasonable price.