In pursuit of reaching the ambitious energy goals for 2030 and 2050, the countries surrounding the North Sea basin have substantially increased their efforts in deploying large-scale offshore wind farms (Fig. 1). However, several studies indicated a serious scarcity of suitable offshore locations for wind farms, in areas with a water depth above -55 m [1], especially in the southern part of the North Sea. Scenarios, such as Wind Europe Central Scenario for the deployment of renewable energy in the North Sea, propose up to 48 GW installed capacity by 2030 [2], approx. 3 times the installed capacity in 2019. Moreover, a large-scale deployment for offshore wind farms is raising the concern of an increase in the cumulative pressures on the already impacted ecosystem of the North Sea basin.

Figure 1

Figure 1. Current and planned (2030 – 2050) cumulative capacity for offshore wind farms
Sources: 2030 capacity: UK—UK Government (Industrial Strategy, Offshore Wind Sector Deal), Germany—Draft site Development Plan 2019 for the North and Baltic Sea, Denmark—Danish Energy Agency (Large-scale offshore screening), The Netherlands—The Climate Agreement, Sweden—Wind Europe Central Scenario for Sweden, Norway—Integrated Management of the Marine environment of the North Sea and Skagerrak. 2050 capacity: The North Sea Opportunity [3].

An analysis of spatial availability in different scenarios

Finding suitable space for offshore wind farms is not a straightforward process, as it is greatly affected by the interaction with other offshore activities and users, such as shipping, fisheries, nature protected areas, military areas, oil and gas infrastructure/wells, cables and pipelines, aggregate extraction areas. When excluding all major current offshore activities, with designated areas, the remaining available space is concentrated in areas with a water depth of between –55 m to –120 m, accounting for 146,374 km2 (Fig. 2). This area can host 498–937 GWs, at a power density of between 3.6 and 6.4 MW/km2 [4]. However, a water depth of below –55 m imposes technical restrictions for offshore wind farms. In these cases, with technological improvements and reductions in the cost of technologies, large-scale floating wind farms could be installed in the North Sea.

Figure 1

Figure 2. Available space offshore when excluding existing activities/spatial claims for different offshore activities.

By ESR Laura Gusatu– email:

To help challenge the existing assumptions for the future offshore energy development up to 2050 and indicate the potential spatial implications of different options for space management, we developed 4 scenarios for space allocation. We considered the variation between high vs. low national energy targets, the sectoral vs. integrated spatial planning approach, as well as secondary factors such as the development shipping activity, oil and gas decommissioning options, status of protected and valuable natural areas and possibilities for the multi-use of space.

The results clearly emphasised that the areas in close proximity to the shore and with shallow waters offer the least possibilities (from 20 GWs to 35 GWs) for deploying offshore wind farms additional to areas planned for 2030. This applies even when considering multi-use with fisheries or protected areas (additional 6 GWs to 2.7 GWs). However, we identified an existing high potential, which could be utilised in future deployments, within a distance of 50 to 100 km from shore and a water depth of –120 to –55 m. This applies to one user of space only, offshore wind farms, with a capacity to harvest from a maximum of 139 installed GWs to a maximum of 191 installed GWs [4].

Furthermore, multi-use with fisheries and nature-protected areas could raise the amount of available space to a maximum of 160 to 334 installed GWs, for the whole North Sea area. If we only consider the multi-use with marine-protected areas, the gathered amount of installed GWs reduces from 19 to 14 installed GWs under current conditions. However, to support this potential, numerous studies emphasise the need for a collaborative approach, strong financial incentives, and technical adaptation realised through an integrated planning approach. On the other hand, a sectoral approach with high-energy targets presents a high spatial potential but also high risks for delays in the authorisation process due to socio-economic impacts on fishery communities and potential negative environmental externalities [4]. Further results of this study are detailed in the article “A Spatial Analysis of the Potentials for Offshore Wind Farm Locations in the North Sea Region: Challenges and Opportunities”, by L. Gusatu, C. Yamu, C. Zuidema, A. Faaij, published in the International Journal of Geo-Information, 2020, 9, 96.

PhD experiences and collaborations

As part of the ENSYSTRA program, this research benefited from a close collaboration with multi-disciplinary teams, both from the host institution, University of Groningen in The Netherlands, as well as the secondment partner, Europa-Universität Flensburg in Germany. The participation in the planned secondment provided additional feedback in solving the problems encountered or in offering new perspectives. It also facilitated the access to key stakeholders and experts in the energy transition field in the North Sea area, paving the way to a better understanding of the offshore renewable energy deployment, in relation to the dynamic development of other offshore activities.


  1. Michiel Müller, N.V.; Haesen, E.; Ramaekers, L.; Verkaik, N. Translate COP21 2045 outlook and implications for offshore wind in the North Seas, 2017. Available online:
  2. Nghiem, A; Pineda, I. Wind energy in Europe: Scenarios for 2030. Wind Eur., 2017, no. September, 32. Available online:
  3. World Energy Council Netherlands. The North Sea Opportunity, 2017. Available online:
  4. Gusatu LF, Yamu C, Zuidema C, Faaij A. A spatial analysis of the potentials for offshore wind farm locations in the North Sea region: Challenges and opportunities. ISPRS Int J Geo-Information. 2020;9(2). doi:10.3390/ijgi9020096

If you have any questions of queries, please direct them to the author Laura Gusatu or the ENSYSTRA Project Manager Dirk Kuiken or Deborah Groeneweg.

If you are interested in the specifics of the 15 research projects, you can find summaries and video explanations from the researchers here.

Our project is supported by 23 industry partner institutions.

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