Despite measuring 970,000 square miles and having 21 coastal countries, the Mediterranean Sea is still an unexplored territory for offshore wind. But with a turbine deal signed at the first offshore wind farm to be built in these waters, we think it is worth a look.
Specifically, Senvion last week secured the deal to supply turbines for a 30MW offshore – technically nearshore – wind farm that is set to be built in front of Taranto harbour in the Apulia region in southern Italy. The project will be developed by Italian company Beleolico, a subsidiary of Belgian firm Belenergia, and Senvion is set to provide ten 3MW turbines.
The project was among the winners of Italy’s wind auction in December 2016, securing a 25-year fixed-price tariff of €161.70/MWh, and is expected to be commissioned by 2018.
It may a small project and with an eye-watering tariff by northern European standards but, according to recent studies, there should be room for more in the Mediterranean Sea.
In 2015, the European Union’s Science Hub published a report that identified potential offshore wind ‘hotspots’ in the Mediterranean, based on wind resources, the depth and shape of the seabed, distance from shore, and grid infrastructure.
This highlighted five large areas with exploitable potential: the coasts of the Gulf of Lyon; the North Adriatic Sea; the entire coastal area of the Gulfs of Hammamet and Gabès in Tunisia; off the Nile River Delta; and the Gulf of Sidra.
But there is a long way to go to turn interest from the scientific community into a viable business proposition. We need only to compare it to the strong market in northern Europe, which is the regional and global leader in offshore wind for a host of reasons, including the combination of wind speeds, shallow waters, and utilities with a track record offshore.
These factors meant northern European countries started work on the earliest offshore wind farms around 20 years ago, and there is now a complex system of infrastructure and supply chain.
The Mediterranean is still at a very early stage so it would take many years for it to catch up.
The conditions in the Mediterranean are also less favourable. The waters are generally deeper, which means that projects need to be build nearshore where the sea is shallower. Floating turbines would open up a larger area but they are not yet commercially viable .
In addition, towns and cities along the Mediterranean coasts are generally more tourism-focused than commercially-focused. This might imply a lack of essential infrastructure for the deployment of offshore wind, including ports equipped to welcome large vessels and turbines blades. There are ports in the region that could handle the job – but a lot of work is needed to support this industry.
Moreover, offshore wind farms are still dependent on the support of governments and, in the areas that have been identified to be suitable for its development, we have seen little interest so far. The exceptions are Italy, with its first small project, and France, which is exploring the potential of floating schemes to resolve the issue of deep waters.
The French government has made €150m available to develop this new technology and last year awarded three floating projects to explore the potential of floating offshore wind farms.
In July, French developer Quadran formed the EolMed consortium and won French government approval for a pilot 24MW project in the French Mediterranean Sea; and, in November, EDF Energies Nouvelles won backing for its 24MW Provence Grand Large project in the Faraman zone, off Fos-sur-Mer. Meanwhile Engie, EDP Renewables and Caisse des Depots were awarded the right to build a 24MW project in a zone off Leucate, in the Gulf of Lion.
But these are still rare exceptions. We could well see France and Italy lead the way on offshore wind in the Med but, with many southern European economies still suffering, we expect most politicians would see offshore wind as a risk on which they don't want to expend either time or money.
The market may be a tasty appetiser for some, but firms still need to look elsewhere for the main course.
Four Republican congressmen have called for a halt to US offshore wind projects because of unsubstantiated claims blaming the industry for whale deaths. But this obvious misinformation can still be a threat for the growth of the industry.