Playing The North Sea's Windy Potential

By Aaron Levitt | June 08, 2012 AAA

With energy demands rising across both developed and emerging nations, a variety of governments have begun to look towards renewable energy sources as a means to satisfy that demand. Nations like China and Germany have recently embraced ambitious new alternative energy projects as a way to increase their generation capacity.

At the same time, forward-thinking investors have flocked to funds like the iShares S&P Global Clean Energy ETF (Nasdaq:ICLN) as a way to profit from these ventures. One such new ambitious venture lies within Britain's North Sea. The project, known as "Norstec," will develop the vast North Sea as an offshore wind energy hub. Already receiving backing from a variety of firms, unlocking the North Sea's wind potential could be a slam-dunk for investors.

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Huge Partnership & Potential
With traditional hydrocarbon production in the nation dwindling by more than half since 1999, the United Kingdom has become serious about adding renewables, in this case, wind power, to its energy mix. Building on the back of its recent success with the 102 turbine, Walney wind farm off the Irish Sea off Cumbria, the U.K. has recently announced plans to turn the North Sea into a wind energy hotspot. Prime Minister David Cameron announced the initiative at the recent Clean Energy Ministerial meeting in London, which was attended by energy ministers from 23 leading economies.

The plan dubbed "Norstec," which is inspired by the "Desertec" solar project currently underway in the Sahara desert, has already attracted a variety of utilities, turbine manufacturers and grid equipment companies.

The potential in the region is huge. According to the European Environmental Agency, Europe's total offshore wind power's potential by 2020 will be 2,600 terra-watts (TW). That's roughly equal to 70% of projected electricity demand for the entire European Union. The group projects that number will rise to 3,400 TW by 2030. The major contributor to those terra-watts will be the North Sea. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, countries around the North Sea currently have plans to install 35.5 gigawatts of offshore wind generating capacity by 2020.

In order to reach that 35.5 GW worth of new capacity, analysts project that the Norstec initiative will need to spend between - 114 billion and 152 billion euros over the next eight years. That spells many opportunities for the companies in the partnership.

SEE: Ways To Slash Your Home Energy Bill

Playing the Norstec Plan
Given how serious the U.K. is about making the North Sea a wind energy hot spot, investors may want to consider focusing some portfolio dollars on the infrastructure project. The First Trust Global Wind Energy (ARCA:FAN) tracks 53 different wind firms including turbine maker Vestas (OTCBB:VWDRY) and advanced materials firm Allegheny Technologies (NYSE:ATI). So far the ETF's performance, along with its sister fund the PowerShares Global Wind Energy (Nasdaq:PWND), has been quite poor. However, both represent a good broad play on additional wind generation capacity coming online in the future. The fund charges 0.60% in expenses.

Interestingly enough, the oil and gas industry is helping spur the Norstec initiative. Setting up an offshore wind farm is similar to building an offshore deepwater oil rig. To that end, France's Technip (OTCBB:TYPPY) could be an interesting bet. The firm delivered its first floating offshore wind turbine in 2009 and recently established an offshore wind unit last May. Likewise, Norway's Statoil (NYSE:STO) has a long history in wind projects and was one of the first Norstec partners as was petroleum construction firm Fluor (NYSE:FLR).

Finally, getting that power to the grids in Europe will take a vast array of electrical components. Early Norstec grid component backers include Alstom (OTCBB:ALSMY), Siemens (NYSE:SI) and utility National Grid (NYSE: NGG).

SEE: The Future Of Green Technology Investing

The Bottom Line
With its current energy production strategy showing signs of strain, the U.K. has unveiled ambitious plans to turn the North Sea into a windy energy hot spot. Already, the project has seen a variety of corporate backers and the project's spending will ultimately help pad these firms' bottom lines. For investors, it may make sense to bet on Norstec's winners. The previous picks are a great way to do just that.

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At the time of writing, Aaron Levitt did not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article.

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