Wind energy – so much potential

 Wind power provided about 3 per cent of global electricity supply last year. Photo: Counselman Collection/ CC BY-SA

We are on track to phase-out and replace fossil fuels with renewable energy. After years of slow growth the wind is now shifting and investment is growing.

In the fifth edition of the Global Wind Energy Outlook for 2014, the Global Wind Energy Council and Greenpeace International describe the situation of wind energy and its potential today.

The Global Wind Energy Outlook explores the future of the wind energy industry out to 2020, 2030 and up to 2050. With the IEA World Energy Outlook’s ‘Reference’ scenario as a baseline, three scenarios are used in the publication:

  • the ‘New Policies’ scenario: this scenario is based on an assessment of current directions and intentions of both national and international energy and climate policy, even though they may not yet have been incorporated into formal decisions or enacted into law.
  • the GWEO Moderate scenario: this scenario takes into account all policy measures to support renewable energy either already enacted or at the planning stage around the world, and at the same time assumes that the commitments to emission reductions agreed by governments at Cancun will be implemented, although on the modest side.
  • the GWEO Advanced scenario: which is the most ambitious scenario, and outlines the extent to which the wind industry could grow in a best-case ‘wind energy vision’, but still well within the capacity of the industry as it exists today. It assumes an unambiguous commitment to renewable energy in line with industry recommendations, the political will to commit to appropriate policies and the political stamina to stick with them.

The most noteworthy conclusions of the findings of the Global Wind Energy Outlook 2014 are the following:

  • Wind power is the least-cost option when adding new generation capacity to the grid, in an increasing number of markets, and prices continue to fall.
  • There are commercial wind power installations in more than 90 countries with a total installed capacity of 318 GW at the end of 2013, providing about 3% of global electricity supply last year.
  • An end seems near to five years of slower growth mainly due to a combination of the various manifestations of the economic crisis, low or negative demand growth, and policy instability in key markets. The market is set to start to grow again and the most promising areas of new growth are in Brazil, Mexico and South Africa.
  • Despite uncertainty about the future in terms of economic conditions and political response to climate change it is certain that wind power still continue to play a significant and growing role in the electricity supply.

The report features a number of results projected along the three baseline scenarios for the years 2013, 2015, 2020, 2025, 2030, 2035, 2040, 2045 and 2050. There are eleven categories covered comprising for instance global cumulative capacity, global annual growth rate, production (TWh), wind power penetration in global electricity generation, CO2 reduction (with 600g CO2/kWh), capital costs, investment and jobs created.

The report clearly demonstrates that wind energy generally has a great role to play in supplying the world’s electricity. It has a particularly important role to play in the regions and countries where as much as 95% of the population lack access to a modern electricity supply. Many of these “poorer” countries rely on imported fuels, which has a great adverse impact on some countries’ economies. Large-scale power production, in many of these regions, is likely to mean large hydro or coal-based generation. Wind power, because of its scalability, can and is beginning to play a key role in both decentralized and centralized systems in several countries. In countries such as Russia, the US and China the potential is great, there is a clear rationale for increasing the share of renewable energy systems (RES). The wind conditions are suitable but the potential is not fully realized due to a number of issues, such as financial obstacles, regulatory barriers, lack of political will, existence of abundant fossil fuel reserves rendering the necessity of wind power less crucial.

However, given the complexity of the situation and the varying framework conditions, the report clearly demonstrates that the technology exists and wind power is increasingly a low-cost option. In several countries, including countries in Eastern Europe, the EU Directive on Renewable Energy, which the candidate and potential candidate countries are forced to transpose prior to EU accession, is creating a demand and political will for investments into RES such as wind energy. It is hoped that the run-up to the Paris climate talks at the end of 2015 and the aftermath of an international agreement on global greenhouse gas reductions will further propel the shift towards RES giving us a chance to realize the Advanced scenario.

Miriam Markus-Johansson

This is the first article in a series of Acid News articles covering sustainable energy policy with a focus on renewable energy sources and energy efficiency policy and legislation at EU and international level.

Table: The projected wind power share of global electricity (found on p. 14 of the report).

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