A Spatial Analysis of the Potentials for Offshore Wind Farm Locations in the North Sea Region: Challenges and Opportunities.


Over the last decade, the accelerated transition towards cleaner means of producing energy has been clearly prioritised by the European Union through large-scale planned deployment of wind farms in the North Sea. From a spatial planning perspective, this has not been a straight-forward process, due to substantial spatial conflicts with the traditional users of the sea, especially with fisheries and protected areas. In this article, we examine the availability of offshore space for wind farm deployment, from a transnational perspective, while taking into account different options for the management of the maritime area through four scenarios. We applied a mixed-method approach, combining expert knowledge and document analysis with the spatial visualisation of existing and future maritime spatial claims. Our calculations clearly indicate a low availability of suitable locations for offshore wind in the proximity of the shore and in shallow waters, even when considering its multi-use with fisheries and protected areas. However, the areas within 100 km from shore and with a water depth above –120 m attract greater opportunities for both single use (only offshore wind farms) and multi-use (mainly with fisheries), from an integrated planning perspective. On the other hand, the decrease of energy targets combined with sectoral planning result in clear limitations to suitable areas for offshore wind farms, indicating the necessity to consider areas with a water depth below –120 m and further than 100 km from shore. Therefore, despite the increased costs of maintenance and design adaptation, the multi-use of space can be a solution for more sustainable, stakeholder-engaged and cost-effective options in the energy deployment process. This paper identifies potential pathways, as well as challenges and opportunities for future offshore space management with the aim of achieving the 2050 renewable energy targets.

Sea Basin(s): 
February 2020
Application in MSP: 
Unknown effect
Nature protection
Offshore renewable energy production
Type of Issue: 
Cross-border cooperation
Environment aspects
Sea-basin cooperation
Type of practice: 
Stage of MSP cycle: 
Analyse spatial aspects
Cross-border / trans-national aspect: 
Coherence with other processes: 
Common Fisheries Policy
Integrated Coastal Zone Management
Marine Strategy Framework Directive
Renewable Energy Directive

Questions this practice may help answer: 

  • What is the impact of offshore activities on future potentials to allocate space for offshore wind energy infrastructure in the North Sea? 


The study was conducted by the Faculty of Spatial Sciences and the Faculty of Science & Engineering (University of Groningen).


The study aims to contribute to the understanding of conflict resolution alternatives for the deployment of renewable energy infrastructure in the North Sea. The research can also be seen as an assessment of the critical locations and cost-effective spatial options for offshore wind farms, which can support policy development and decision-making.


The authors applied a mixed-method approach, combining literature review, data analyses and expert interviews.


This research identified the impact of offshore activities on future potentials to allocate space for offshore wind energy infrastructure in the North Sea up to 2050.


The methodology used in this research is potentially applicable to similar studies in other marine regions.

Responsible Entity: 

Faculty of Spatial Sciences, University of Groningen, 9700 AE Groningen, The Netherlands.
Faculty of Science and Engineering, University of Groningen, 9700 AE Groningen, The Netherlands.

Costs / Funding Source: 

This research is part of a project that has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 765515.

Contact person: 

Laura Florentina Gusatu: l.f.gusatu@rug.nl

Claudia Yamu: claudia.yamu@rug.nl

Christian Zuidema: c.zuidema@rug.nl

Andre Faaij: a.p.c.faaij@rug.nl