Artificial Islands in the North Sea

Position Paper | Year 2021
Artificial Islands in the North Sea
Class of Technical Sciences

Climate change and a rise in sea levels are leading to an increased risk of inundations and  serious damage to our coastal infrastructure such as dykes, coastal roads and buildings.  Therefore, continuously increasing measures will be necessary to keep our coast safe at an acceptable level.  The development and construction of one (1) or more artificial islands just off the Belgian coast is certainly an option worth exploring if we are to meet our climate goals.
This report describes and evaluates the feasibility of an artificial island in the Belgian North Sea. There are two good reasons for considering the construction of artificial islands. The first and main reason is coastal safety, i.e. limiting the risks and damage associated with floods.  The second is the production of renewable energy, which is one of the main challenges involved in reaching the goal of a CO2 neutral society.  In the short and medium term, offshore windfarms are an essential element on this journey, whereas artificial islands will facilitate the construction and exploitation of these large numbers of existing and new windfarms in Belgian territorial waters. In addition, they will help balance the grid.
Besides the analysis of the abovementioned primary applications of an artificial island, this report also lists the secondary applications such as, but not limited to, tourism, aquaculture, desalination infrastructure, data centres, navigation, pilot bases,  monitoring and maintenance centres for wind turbines, etc.  A smart combination of different applications could probably change the business potential of such an island from ‘too expensive’ to ‘feasible’.  A multi-disciplinary use of any new, sea-based infrastructure is therefore a necessity. 
The Belgian part of the North Sea is already intensively used by a wide range of different users and consists of a large number of valuable ecosystems. Artificial islands could potentially create new opportunities but will have a significant impact in geographical, economic and ecological terms.  Therefore, the construction of artificial islands has to be carefully investigated and a multi-disciplinary approach must be put forward.  Moreover, since these artificial islands will be constructed in what is Belgium’s biggest public domain, realisation will depend on broad social support and acceptance. A co-creation strategy, involving all stakeholders in an intensive dialogue, is the key to success.
The Marine Spatial Plan of the Belgian North Sea offers a solid legal framework for these developments and creates, in the 6-yearly review period, the possibility to anticipate future developments. 

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