Status quo report on offshore energy planning provisions in the North Sea Region


The report provides an overview of the current status of offshore energy in the North Sea. It focusses on the current cooperation initiatives, the energy profiles and energy targets of the different countries, as well as upcoming industry trends. Spatial implications of these trends are sketched and recommendations defined to improve cooperation in the near future

Sea Basin(s): 
Application in MSP: 
Unknown effect
Offshore renewable energy production
Type of Issue: 
Cross-border cooperation
Economic aspects
Sea-basin cooperation
Type of practice: 
Stage of MSP cycle: 
Cross-border / trans-national aspect: 
Coherence with other processes: 
Renewable Energy Directive

Questions this practice may help answer

  • What are the existing project and cooperation initiatives in the North Sea Region on offshore energy developments;
  • What are the current energy objectives, policies, and designated planning areas, in the North Sea Region countries, and where do they differ?
  • What are the main future trends in the offshore energy policy landscape?
  • What are the main industry developments for offshore energy which are of importance for the North Sea region?
  • What are possible spatial implications of future policy and industry trends for Maritime Spatial Planning in the North Sea region?

Implementation Context

The NorthSEE project promotes a better exchange of information among MSP authorities, related experts and institutions in the North Sea Region (NSR). NorthSEE aims at achieving greater coherence in MSP across the NSR, for three topics of transnational nature: environmental aspects, shipping routes and energy infrastructure This report is specifically focused on Energy Infrastructure and the status quo of offshore energy planning provisions in the NSR.

Aspects / Objectives

Present the existing international MSP institutional framework in the NSR and its role for offshore energy developments;
Describe and compare the national and transnational offshore energy planning provisions of national and regional authorities, including energy objectives, policies, and designated planning areas;
Identify future trends in the offshore energy policy landscape and industry developments across the NSR;
Consider the spatial implications of future policy and industry trends for Maritime Spatial Planning in the NSR.


The NorthSEE project partners, which are the MSP authorities, have been actively involved in writing and reviewing the report. At the start of the NorthSEE project, all MSP authorities were asked to fill in a questionnaire related to energy developments. Based on these findings, the report has been developed on current policies and targets. For the parts of future industry trends, the report writers have been in close contact with expert stakeholders. Recommendations have been developed based on the most important findings.

Main Outputs / Results

Institutional framework on offshore energy cooperation in the North Sea

There is a long tradition of regional energy cooperation in the North Sea. The institutional framework of North Sea energy cooperation over the recent years included regional sea basin mechanisms and organisations, multi- and bi-lateral energy declarations and agreements, energy trade bodies and stakeholder forums with sea basin interests, as well as European projects looking to promote the sustainable development of offshore energy in the NSR (see picture 1)

EU-funded projects offer a great opportunity for North Sea countries to cooperate on matters of transnational importance, including offshore energy. Since 2010, a total budget of over 15 million euro has been invested on energy cooperation projects. Figure 2 provides an overview of these projects.

Energy profiles in the North Sea

  • The energy profiles show that there is an on-going dominance of fossil fuels. Norway is largest producer of oil and gas and Germany is the largest producer of wind energy. Germany is also the largest consumer of energy.
  • Growth of offshore wind in the North Sea is beginning to meet EU’s power demand (10.4%). UK is in the lead, with the largest amount of installed offshore wind capacity in Europe (40.8%).

  • The ocean energy industry is actively developing and by the end of 2016, 21 tidal turbines were deployed in European waters totalling 13 MW.
  • The EU MSP Directive commits countries to have marine plans in place by 2021, and calls for transnational coherence. However, differences exist, where some countries such as Denmark and Sweden have yet to adopt their first national plan, whilst others are going through plan iterations. This progress mismatch and transnational incoherence are threats to the sustainable management of the North Sea.

  • Additional transnational challenges include different MSP approaches adopted between countries and differences in terminology used. National approaches do not necessarily need to be harmonised, but need to be compatible.
  • With the exception of Norway and Sweden, most NSR countries have planned and designated spatial areas for offshore renewable energy and set goals to meet renewable energy targets. No zones have been opened in Norway yet, but areas have been identified and no specific target goals or spatially designated areas have been set in Sweden. The method of spatially designating areas for offshore renewable energy is considered as best practice.

  • Proactive engagement in transnational consultation is limited and needs to be given higher priority and undertaken earlier in the process.

Future trends

  • There are wide differences in NSR countries policies, objectives, targets and timelines

  • Most offshore wind farms are within UK and German waters. Scotland is leading on wave and tidal energy developments.
  • Most energy targets and commitments only run up to 2020 and then there is a lack of medium term (2030) targets. The remaining targets are aspirational targets running up to 2050.

  • It is important to take future timelines of wind energy projects into account in sectoral planning considerations, including upcoming competitive tenders and the regulatory framework.
  • The 2020 outlook for wind energy is promising in terms of achieving energy policy commitments and targets.
  • Future energy industry trends include larger, more powerful offshore wind turbines further offshore in deeper waters, floating wind, multi-rotor turbines, increased ocean energy developments, multi-use developments, and decommissioning of Oil & Gas platforms . These trends will all have spatial implications for MSP.
  • Future outlook for 2020 and 2030 for offshore wind shows a mismatch in the level of aspirations between government and industry.
  • Space requirements are needed to be considered carefully for meeting offshore industry growth forecasts for 2020 and 2030 in the North Sea.

The main findings of the report are:

  • Differences in national MSP approaches, leading to different outcomes and make cooperation more difficult.
  • Best practice to designate spatial areas for offshore energy in MSP is done by the different North Sea countries
  • National approaches to MSP and sectoral planning affected by country history, priorities, and geography
  • Importance of using and maintaining existing data infrastructure and encouraging industry to submit their data to portals
  • There is no over-arching body or mechanism for MSP coordination and cooperation  in the North Sea, despite the call to do so via the EU MSP Directive
  • Terminology barriers hinder transnational cooperation in the North Sea
  • Strong offshore energy industry growth by 2020; Risks post-2020
  • Spatial implications of future trends need to be explored further
  • Partner countries are on track to achieving EU carbon reduction targets
  • Include transnational consultation as part of the formal consultation process and to engage with bordering countries at an early stage of the process


The report describes the status quo of current policy, energy targets and cooperation mechanisms. Also, in other sea basins (such as the Baltic) energy cooperation is of importance to facilitate the process of offshore renewable energy developments. The practices in the North Sea are therefore of interests for others. Considering industry trends, most of them are taking place on a more global scale. Technologies have to be adapted to a specific region and circumstances, but the report provides an interesting overview of these trends and possible spatial implications, which could be used by stakeholders and researchers.

Responsible Entity

Scottish Government

Costs / Funding Source

Report is part of the NorthSEE project, which is funded by Interreg VB North Sea Region

Contact person

Andronikos Kafas