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Germán José Manuel Toro Ghio, son of Germán Alfonso and Jenny Isabel Cristina, became a citizen of planet Earth in the cold dawn of Sunday, May 11, 1958, in Santiago, capital of southern Chile....

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  • Jan 27, 2023

Written in Spanish by  for OLATZ HERNÁNDEZ &  JOSÉ A. GONZÁLEZ

Translation by Germán & Co


The wind is blowing, but whether for or against offshore wind energy remains to be seen. Large wind turbines are already a character in the interior of the Iberian Peninsula, but now they want to deploy their imposing blades offshore. In 2021, the world offshore wind installation record was broken with 21,222 MW, an increase of 59% compared to 2020.

"These numbers give an idea of the strength and maturity of this technology," says the Spanish Wind Energy Association (AEE). However, not a single watt is in Spanish waters.

The sector is at square one waiting for the Council of Ministers to give the green light to the Maritime Space Management Plans (POEM) "to distribute the sea areas and their uses", says Tomás Romagosa, technical director and coordinator of the offshore wind working group of the Spanish Wind Energy Association (AEE). In 2021, offshore wind generated 35.3 gigawatts of energy, a third of which came from the British Isles. A race where Spain "aims to produce between one and three GW by 2030", according to the Minister for Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge, Teresa Ribera. One more step towards decarbonising the economy, but one that leaves its mark on the seabed.

The particularities of the Iberian peninsula's coastline complicate deployment, as Spain's more than 6,000 kilometres of coastline have a depth of between 2,500 metres in the Mediterranean and up to 4,000 metres in the Atlantic. "The continental shelf is smaller than in the North Sea," says Antonio Turiel, a researcher at the CSIC. Precisely these waters, which bathe the coasts of the United Kingdom, Denmark, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, will account for 64% of the GW generated by offshore wind in 2021. Currently, of the 28,210 megawatts of offshore installed, 99.6% are fixed foundation, an option that is not valid for Spain, the alternative is floating wind.

"This means that ships have to go further out to sea and use more fuel. Torcuato Teixeira manager of the Peca-Galicia-Arpega-Obarco Shipowners' Association

A major disadvantage, but one that has its 'pros'. "The installation can be done with less environmental impact," says Virginia Dundas, head of strategic environmental programmes at Orsted, a Danish company that has deployed hundreds of offshore wind turbines in the North Sea. "It has less effect than the fixed one," says Cristóbal López, spokesman for the marine area of Ecologistas en Acción. However, "regardless of its anchoring, it will have a detriment and the important thing is that the location is done correctly", says Sara Pizzinato, an expert in renewable energies and territory and spokesperson for Greenpeace.


Environmental criteria

The roadmap for the deployment of offshore wind, written by the Ministry for Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge, establishes several international protocols and conventions, such as the Kyoto Protocol, the Ramsar Convention and the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment, among others, as the basis for its installation. "Both the fight against climate change and the loss of biodiversity have to go hand in hand," warns Pizzinato.

Last summer, the ministry led by Teresa Ribera opened a public consultation to draw up the regulations governing offshore wind power off the Spanish coast.

"This crisis cannot be solved by one person alone, it has to be a joint effort between companies and governments," says the spokeswoman for the Norwegian company working on the projection of wind turbines off the Spanish coast. "We have a multidisciplinary team with biologists, technicians and people who talk to the communities to understand the potential impacts," she adds. "There are big unknowns, but the impacts are obvious whether you want to disguise them or not," says Torcuato Teixeira, manager of the Peca-Galicia-Arpega-Obarco Shipowners' Association.

"Both the fight against climate change and the loss of biodiversity have to go hand in hand". Sara Pizzinato expert in renewable energies and territory and spokesperson for Greenpeace

One of the changes brought about by anchoring, whether fixed or floating, are fishing exclusion zones. The current projects propose the installation of these farms around 20 and 30 kilometres off the Spanish coast. "This means that vessels will have to go further out to fish and use more fuel," Teixeira complains. Several environmental organisations disagree: "It doesn't affect coastal fishing, but rather trawling, which damages the seabed more with the large nets they throw, and is a lesser evil," countered López.

"It's not like that, it also affects the volantera, the longliners and, if I dare say it, the artisanal fishermen," adds Teixeira.

Trawling is one of the most widespread forms of fishing around the world, where approximately 40% of catches are made with gear that comes into contact with the seabed. "These installations will not allow the deployment of the nets, nor will it be possible for the evacuation line (cable through which the energy is transferred) to go," Teixeira points out. "These areas will serve as a rest area for fishing and the seabed, although we regret that with respect to previous drafts, areas for offshore wind have been eliminated in favour of trawling areas, and this does not exactly respond to environmental needs," said Pizzinato.

The wind farm's communication route to the mainland is another of the impacts cited by ecologists and environmentalists. In the journal Science of the Total Environment, Spanish researchers warn that the transport of electricity generated offshore "can disorientate or even electrocute animals". "The noise will obviously also have an influence, but that is why there has to be a prior study and it has to be done in areas where it will have less impact," says the Greenpeace spokeswoman. "The information currently available is insufficient to assess everything," she adds.

Although the focus is on the seabed, the sea surface is also a cause for concern. "We shouldn't make the same mistake as we did on land and put wind turbines everywhere," says López.

"We shouldn't make the same mistake as we did on land and put wind turbines all over the place.  Cristóbal López spokesman for the marine area of Ecologistas in Action.

Several studies have shown that some species of birds change their migratory routes to avoid passing through wind turbines and "many die as a result of impacts", warns the head of the marine area of Ecologists in Action. "The latest drafts of the Maritime Space Management Plans contemplate the migratory routes of birds," adds Pizzinato. The environmental organisations have expressly asked the government for these installations to be 30 or 40 metres above the sea in order to "avoid influencing the fishing and feeding of birds".

"What we have to be clear about is that we have to leave a positive impact," says Dundas. His company has teamed up with WWF to stop the loss of biodiversity because "we need it and it is everywhere", he says. Together with WWF, they are working in Denmark on 'planting' 3D printed reefs to grow the cod population, but their concern goes beyond their 'homeland'. In Taiwan, Orsted has started a pilot project to plant these reefs in the foundations of turbines to combat their extinction. "If you do things right, you won't make the mistakes of onshore wind," says Lopez.


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