The current crisis in Ukraine has further exacerbated the need for energy independence and less-reliance on imported fossil fuels. This increases the demand for renewable and clean energy sources and increases the potential for offshore wind power in Finnish waters. With proper planning and communication, offshore energy could become an important part of Finland’s energy production and provide a clean and reliable source of energy.
Wind power is a relatively small part of Finland’s energy production
Finland is a leader in renewable energy. In 2021, renewable energy sources accounted for 42% of Finnish energy consumption. Most of this renewable energy comes from biofuels, with wind power accounting for only 2.2%. Most of this wind power is onshore, with offshore accounting for a small fraction of total wind power. Offshore wind capacity is approximately 70MW of electricity production in Finland.
Europe has seen rapid development of offshore wind farms with a combined total of approximately 28,000MW of installed capacity. The UK and Germany are forerunners of offshore development and together account for over 70% of European capacity. The European Union (EU) has announced plans to increase offshore capacity to 60,000MW by 2030, and 300,000MW by 2050. Additionally, the EU emphasises the need to increase multilateral cooperation between countries in developing offshore turbines. These ambitious plans, coupled with the increasing pressure to reduce fossil fuel use, mean that offshore development will need to be rapidly upscaled.
Potential for offshore development in Finland
There are several development projects underway in Finnish waters and the capacity is already expected to increase. Finland’s marine spatial plans to 2030 have accounted for this need by allocating space for offshore development. These plans have been approved by Finland’s coastal municipalities.
Offshore wind farms can provide several benefits. Land-use conflicts are minimised when developing offshore. Winds are stronger and more consistent at sea, meaning a higher capacity factor and greater reliability. Finnish municipalities that host offshore farms receive taxation revenue and increased job opportunities in the area – this can have a substantial impact on municipal finances. Offshore foundations have been shown to provide protection and habitats for marine ecosystems and there is growing evidence that these impacts can improve biodiversity in the area.
All energy production has some issues, and offshore wind is no exception. Offshore turbines, particularly during the construction phase, can interfere with local bird and marine habitats and harm migratory birds. Turbines can affect the scenery in an area and have negative impacts on recreation and tourism. Offshore wind parks require specialist vessels and infrastructure, leading to higher costs of installation and maintenance. Turbines can interfere with military surveillance and radar technology, limiting the available areas for development in Finnish waters.
How to develop offshore sustainably?
Despite these negative externalities, through planning and technological innovation, offshore wind can become a competitive and clean source of energy. Extensive planning and further research and innovation can limit and mitigate the environmental impacts of offshore turbines. Finding suitable development areas away from key wildlife hotspots that also limit visual and noise impacts on local communities is key. An in-depth consultation and discussion phase with local communities and stakeholders should be undertaken to increase awareness and understanding of offshore parks. Improvements in offshore technology can increase relative competitiveness and further reduce the environmental and social impact through cleaner and safer construction, floating technology so turbines can be further away from the coast, less underwater noise and disturbances, and many other innovations.
Improving energy independence and a clean source of energy
The crisis in Ukraine has led to an increase in fuel prices and could potentially lead to longer-term impacts on energy prices and energy availability. The EU has announced measures to become entirely independent of Russian fossil fuels by 2030. Finland also wants to reduce reliance on Russian imports, including fossil and biofuels. Finland is aiming to become carbon neutral by 2035 and announced a phase-out of peat as an energy and heating source.
Offshore wind can aid in the transition to becoming a carbon-neutral and energy-independent country. Offshore wind can produce a reliable and consistent energy source to complement other sources of energy. Finland could become an independent energy producer and phase out the production of energy and heating from oil and gas. Long-term planning and policy decisions stemming from an iterative discussion and communication process with scientists, stakeholders, and experts can aid in mitigating the environmental impact and improve public awareness of offshore wind parks.
The author Jamie Jenkins is a doctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki. His background is in environmental economics and his current research focuses on the sustainable development of renewable energy technologies.