This is the question raised in a report released on 10 January 2012: "A Sea of Opportunities" (Et hav av Muligheter) (accessible here).
The answered given in the report is clear and is stated on the first page: "Norway should invest more in offshore wind." The benefits are multiple. Offshore wind contributes to the reduction of GHG emissions, will play a central role in tomorrow's low carbon European economies, represents an economic opportunity for Norway and an added value building on the strong expertise gained by the country in the oil and gas sector.
Central in the report is the vision of offshore wind as an important industry for Norway in the future. The offshore wind industry will enable job creation and expand the high value expertise of the offshore industry. The report supports the establishment of a strong offshore wind industry, as well as it points out the weaknesses of today's national policy.
The report recommends that Norway should define a set of political tools in order to: increase innovation; reduce costs in the forthcoming five years; qualify the Norwegian companies to the international market. Norwegian companies are already present on the international market, but this position should be strengthened according to the report. A recent study identified that approx. 140 Norwegian companies were active in the offshore wind business in 2011, including abroad (in 9 countries).
The innovative message of the report is clearly, in the Norwegian context, to envisage offshore wind as an industrial sector where the country must invest, not only internationally but also at the domestic level. The authors recommend that Norway should establish a long-term programme for the test, demonstration and commercialisation of offshore wind, where the final aim should be the qualification of Norwegian offshore wind industry in the international market. An objective of 700MW capacity by 2020 is proposed. The programme should encompass both onshore and offshore installations. All the forthcoming projects should focus on cost reduction, including through innovation, in order to render the sector more competitive. The national programme should also support the development of less developed technologies for the exploitation of new renewable energy sources (i.e., others than hydro power). The programme should strengthen research and development in the wind sector, and be supported by an active education and employment policy in the sector.
One should observe that such industrial vision for offshore wind has already been addressed by several national governments and industry organisations abroad. This is referred to in the third part of the report (Offshore vind - en ny global storindustri). The following countries can be mentioned: the UK, Germany, Denmark, China, France, USA and Korea. In the North Sea, the big players include Vattenfall, Dong Energy, E-On, RWE, Statkraft, Statoil. The report notes that Dong Energy in Denmark has been so far the most successful in involving national pension funds in the ownership of wind energy projects, a perspective that the UK, and in particular Scotland, envy. International competition has already started, and, as rightly pointed out by the report, it must happen now or it will be too late.
The report does not address the barriers in the development of an offshore wind industry. As the title indicates, it rather focuses on "opportunities". On that point, the report carries mostly a political message in favour of an industrial sector.
The regulatory framework for offshore wind has been defined in 2010 in Norway (Act on Renewable Energy Production at Sea; Lov om fornybar energiproduksjon til havs, havenergiloven). The areas for offshore wind licensing have been identified, although the process has not yet started (see report "Offshore wind power in Norway".