The European offshore wind industry needs an area equivalent to the size of Ireland to install enough turbines to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, a target for most EU members, a leading industry group said in a report.
Fighting climate change is a top priority for the European Commission's new head Ursula von der Leyen, who has set out a "European Green Deal" intended to achieve "climate neutrality" - adding no greenhouse gases to the atmosphere beyond what can be absorbed - by 2050.
"Today we have 20 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind in Europe and the European Commission, not the industry, is saying we need to have between 230 and 450 GW by 2050," WindEurope CEO Giles Dickson told Reuters, pointing to EU calculations from 2018.
With only 20 GW of offshore wind installed in Europe, annual installations would need to accelerate sharply from today's 3 GW per year.
However, one key hurdle is finding space for new wind farms as at least 60% of the North Sea is not available due to exclusion zones based on environmental protection or industries such as fishing, shipping and the military.
"The governments' current and perhaps restrictive approach to maritime spatial planning risks resulting in them spending much more money on offshore wind than perhaps they had to," said Dickson.
"Today maritime spatial planning is based on silos, you do fishing here, the shipping lanes here, offshore wind here ... there's no multiple use," he said, adding 450 GW would take up 3% of the North Sea in terms of space, about the size of Ireland.
In addition, capital investment in offshore wind and grids would need to rise from around 6 billion euros ($6.6 billion) a year in 2020 to 23 billion euros by 2030 and thereafter up to 45 billion euros per year, according to the report.
The International Energy Agency last month released its first report on offshore wind potential, outpointing it could become Europe's top source of power generation.
($1 = 0.9073 euros)
(Reporting by Stine Jacobsen; editing by David Evans)