The Belgian presidency of the European Union says that Europe’s renewable energy targets are “no longer a dream” after ten countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the development of an offshore electricity grid.

Sweden, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Norway and Belgium have all signed the North Seas Countries Offshore Grid Initiative, pledging to collaborate to find solutions to and plan a network of offshore interconnections.

The grid would enable the offshore wind resources of the North Sea, the Channel, Celtic Sea and Irish Sea to be shared by European states. It is seen as a major step forward in the development of a single European electricity market, and has also been prioritized by the European Commission.

“The offshore grid in the North Sea and its connection to northern and central Europe has been identified as one of the priorities in matters of electricity,” said the European Commissioner for Energy, Günther Oettinger. “It is very encouraging to observe that … EU Member States and Norway are taking this significant step ahead by signing the Memorandum of Understanding.”

The grid could supply up to 46 per cent of Europe’s electricity needs by 2050, according to Paul Magnette, Belgium’s Minister for Climate and Energy Policy.

Ultimately, it could be extended to tap the vast solar energy reserves of the Mediterranean and North Africa.

Under the MOU, the ten states will work in close collaboration to overcome the technical and regulatory challenges that will be encountered in the planning and development of the grid. Three working groups – which will include transmission system operators, regulators, governments and the European Commission – will be set up.

The agreement has been widely welcomed by industry and green groups. Greenpeace called the MOU a “promising signal”, while the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) said that it was “an indispensable step” that was “critical” for the development of the single European electricity market.

Daniel Dobbeni, president of the Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E) described the initiative as “a significant step in the direction of regional cooperation with a shared vision, concrete objectives and an ambitious, but also pragmatic action plan”. He added that ENTSO-E intended to collaborate on the project.