Looking at the big picture – the energy transition and the achievement of the European climate targets – there is no alternative to expanding offshore capacity for the generation and transmission of North Sea wind power. For that reason, both the Dutch and German governments have set ambitious targets for offshore expansion, which the Dutch-German transmission system operator (TSO) TenneT is gradually implementing and has even exceeded for its German North Sea control area. In the individual case, however, each offshore construction and operational measure obviously has an impact on the valuable North Sea and Wadden Sea ecosystems. As TenneT strives to apply and monitor nature-friendly solutions in all of its offshore grid projects, the TSO is now conducting pilot tests with stone coverings of submarine cable intersections.
When the TSCNET shareholder lays submarine cables, e.g. currently for the high-voltage connection of the Hollandse Kust (zuid) wind region, the cables sometimes cross with existing oil and gas pipelines. In such cases, the cables protrude above the seabed and are usually covered with a layer of granite to protect them. To replace granite with alternative solutions that promote biodiversity, TenneT has launched a pilot project in collaboration with the offshore specialist company Van Oord. In this project, different types of stones are deposited at cable crossings to investigate which of these stimulates biodiversity best. In total, the pilot involves twelve locations in the North Sea. In the case of the first six, recently laid submarine cables already cross existing oil and gas pipelines. Another six intersections will follow during the construction of the Hollandse Kust (Zuid) connection in 2021.
On 14 October, the different stones were loaded onto Van Oord’s special vessel to be placed at the cable intersections in the coming weeks. Among them are small calciferous stones from a marble quarry, which are placed at three of the six cable intersections. Comparison with the other three intersections without calciferous stones will allow to assess the difference in the type of marine life developing at these intersections. “Our expectation is that the calciferous stones will ensure that various benthic species will find it easier to nest here and that a different habitat will emerge at these sites. Over the years, ‛artificial reefs’ can emerge at these sites in the North Sea, where plants and small creatures can settle,” explains Saskia Jaarsma, Head Offshore Developments and Large Projects Offshore at TenneT.