May 27. 2024. 8:41

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A sea of change: Energy security in the Baltic region

The Baltic Sea region’s shift towards offshore wind and its pivot away from Russian energy supplies is changing the Baltic energy security dynamics while increasing the region’s dependence on offshore and maritime energy infrastructure, writes Lukas Trakimavičius.

The energy security landscape of the Baltic Sea region is undergoing massive changes. The shift towards renewables is poised to increase the region’s reliance on offshore energy infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the decoupling from Russian energy supplies has boosted its dependence on shipping lanes for energy imports. All of this means that the region’s energy security will increasingly be linked to the security of the Baltic Sea.

In a bid to meet the agreed climate goals, all 8 Baltic Sea states, which are part of the European Union, have, in recent years, announced ambitious plans for renewable sources of energy.

Countries such as Denmark and Estonia, for example, expect that their electricity systems will be completely independent of fossil fuels by 2030.

Meanwhile, Lithuania wants to produce over 90 per cent and Germany around 80 per cent of its electricity from renewables by the end of this decade.

Despite their many differences in size, energy demand and geography, the Baltic Sea states have at least one thing in common – they all hope that offshore wind would facilitate their shift to net zero.

According to the Marienborg Declaration, signed in 2022, all EU Baltic Sea states have announced their intentions to have 19.6 gigawatts of offshore wind in operation by 2030. This is around seven times the current capacity.

Furthermore, to decarbonise hard-to-abate sectors and to make better use of excess electricity, it is fairly likely that some of these offshore wind farms may also be used to produce green hydrogen.

The hydrogen could be produced on land or offshore facilities like the joint Danish-German Bornholm Energy Island project, expected to go online in 2030.

There are also plans to develop offshore energy infrastructure, such as power cables or hydrogen pipelines, that could further expand the interconnectedness of the Baltic Sea region.

In parallel with the shift towards renewables, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also upended the Baltic Sea energy security landscape.

This is because, in response to Russia’s aggression, most countries in the region have moved away from Russian energy imports such as oil and natural gas.

This has been particularly impactful for the countries on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea, which historically have been very reliant on piped Russian energy supplies.

This shift from Russian energy imports and, particularly, natural gas has nudged the region to embrace liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports.

Before the Russian invasion, there were only two large-scale LNG import terminals in operation in the Baltic Sea: Poland and Lithuania. In response to the war, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, and Poland have announced their plans to either develop new LNG import facilities or expand existing ones.

As a result of this flurry of activity, the Baltic Sea will be brimming with new energy infrastructure over the coming years.

These additions will be deployed next to existing hardware, such as oil import terminals, the Baltic Pipe gas interconnector and a myriad of submarine power cables that already crisscross the Baltic Sea.

However, all of this energy infrastructure will be exposed to a number of security risks. These could include relatively harmless incidents like anchoring or trawling or much more malevolent threats like attacks committed by state and non-state actors.

Even if it is unclear who and when could target offshore energy infrastructure, it is known that countries like Russia can conduct covert special missions in the deep seas.

It is home to the main directorate of deep-sea research, or GUGI, which maintains a fleet of surface vessels, mini-submarines and other submersibles.

Recent reports suggest that GUGI is mainly responsible for the Kremlin’s seabed activities across maritime Europe, the Arctic, and globally.

There is also evidence that Russia’s armed forces maintain a fleet of weaponised naval drones, which could target coastal targets. Back in February, one such drone was used to blow up the Zatoka Bridge in Ukraine’s Odesa region.

Granted, the deployment of new offshore infrastructure and the growing centrality of the Baltic Sea for energy supply security will not make the countries in the region worse off than they are right now. On the contrary.

Deploying decentralised power generation and receiving capacity will lead to greater energy resilience in the region.

If the functioning of one or two submarine power cables gets disrupted, there would still be sufficient redundancy in the system to prevent energy shortages.

An arguably bigger concern is that hybrid warfare campaigns would target offshore and maritime energy infrastructure.

These are particularly challenging to address because they combine conventional and non-conventional activities, both overtly and covertly, and include cyber-attacks, economic pressure and disinformation, among other things.

Therefore, in the years to come, countries in the Baltic Sea region will likely have to double down on their offshore and maritime energy infrastructure protection efforts. This means more monitoring, patrolling, and various energy resilience-building exercises will be required.

Given the regional nature of security risks to offshore and maritime energy infrastructure, it would make sense to deal with them individually, collectively, and multilaterally.

To this end, the recent NATO and EU announcement to create a joint task force on resilience and critical infrastructure protection is a welcome step in the right direction.

The EU’s recent decision to update its maritime security strategy is equally commendable.

The mass deployment of offshore wind farms and the abandonment of Russian energy is turning the Baltic Sea both into a source of and a critical artery for energy supplies.

Therefore, in the years to come, the region’s energy security will increasingly be contingent upon the ability to keep the offshore energy infrastructure safe and the sea lanes open.