Ten European Union (EU) countries last week signed a memorandum of understanding  to develop an offshore energy grid linking renewable wind energy sources in the North Sea and put it into operation by 2020. The nations also committed to working together to overcome the regulatory, legal, market, planning, and technical issues involved in creating a North Sea grid.

The long-awaited project has been under consideration since member states and industry met at a high-level conference this October. Leaders assert it is crucial, owing to estimations that 150 GW—16% of the EU’s electricity consumption—of offshore wind power is planned to be installed through 2030. The project will be costly: The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) expects it could cost up to €30 billion.

Similar projects are already being developed in the region, however. The ISLES project (Irish-Scottish Links on Energy Study) is also assessing the possibility of connecting Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland in an Irish Sea and Atlantic coast grid.

Last week, the 10 countries—Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom— called for, among other things, an assessment of technical considerations through 2030 to be delivered by June 2011. Scotland’s Energy Minister Jim Mather hailed the EU initiative because it will draw upon the ISLES work in overcoming challenges of a sub-sea grid.

According to the EWEA, Europe’s power grids were originally built to handle large centralized power plants rather than great amounts of distributed renewable generation such as that produced by offshore wind farms, but the “supergrid” could help resolve that problem.

The grid would feature a high voltage direct current cable network. Plans to build a €100 billion pan-European grid by 2030 are also under consideration, EWEA said.

Sources: The Scottish Government, EWEA, POWERnews