Offshore wind farms are “increasingly probable” targets of terrorist attacks – for example by aerial or submarine drones – and defence systems are urgently needed to protect them as critical national infrastructure, a Polish study warns.
The sabotage explosions at the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea in September and the “current geopolitical situation” have highlighted the threat to offshore wind projects, lieutenant commander Tomasz Chyła, an expert at the Ignacy Lukasiewicz Institute for Energy Policy in Rzeszów and lecturer at the Polish Naval Academy, said in an analysis of the issue.
The Nord Stream attack took place in waters close to the Danish island of Bornholm, which Denmark plans to turn into an energy island linked to several gigawatts of offshore wind and possibly equipped with green hydrogen production facilities.
While responsibility has yet to be proved, Russia is widely tipped to be behind the attacks even though the pipelines are majority-owned by a unit of Russian gas monopoly Gazprom, with the motive seen as a show of force to intimidate Western countries by proving the vulnerability of their marine infrastructure.
Poland wants to build 11GW of wind in its part of the Baltic Sea by 2040, a goal that the country could yet increase as it scrambles to exit coal power.
Chyła in his analysis said the remote location of Polish offshore wind projects up to 80km from land makes them vulnerable to access by airborne drones, yachts or motor boats that could function as drone platforms, as well as subsea drones, which “suggests that the transfer of an explosive charge to the area of a wind turbine or submarine cables is an increasingly probable scenario”.
“Critical maritime infrastructure is extremely difficult to protect and secure against possible attacks,” he warned.
Chyła suggested a series of measures, including the use of detection systems and technology to disrupt or destroy flying threats.
“The poor condition of the Polish Navy should be the reason for starting work on unmanned patrol vessels, with a small displacement but equipped with radar systems and anti-drone systems,” he added.
“Such ships could defend the installation from the sea.”
The offshore wind build-up should also be an imperative for the construction of listening systems to protect wind farms against threats from underwater drones, Chyła said.
While the protection of future offshore wind projects or operating wind farms still doesn’t seem to be on the radar of most governments, Norway’s prime minister Jonas Gahr Store in the wake of the Nord Stream pipeline explosions has said he will send the military to protect the country’s vast offshore oil & gas infrastructure.
The Norwegian Armed Forces and European NATO allies also are to “work out a coordinated” response to secure critical energy infrastructure offshore Norway, a spokesperson for Norway’s Ministry of Defence told Recharge sister publication Upstream last month.