Can renewable energy power the world?
Can renewable energy power the world?

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Can renewable energy power the world?

6.9 Future prospects for wind energy

In 2012 the GWEC (Global Wind Energy Council) produced a series of global wind energy outlook scenarios (GWEC, 2012) to examine the future potential for wind energy up to 2020, 2030 and 2050. These were based on three scenario assumptions:

  1. a New Policies scenario based on the projections in the International Energy Agency’s 2009 World Energy Outlook (IEA, 2009)
  2. a Moderate scenario (MS) which takes into account policy measures to support renewable energy and targets either enacted or in the planning stages around the world
  3. an Advanced scenario (AS) which has more ambitious assumptions based on an estimate of the extent to which the wind industry could grow in a best case ‘wind energy vision’.
Figure 23 Global cumulative wind power capacity to 2030 (source: GWEC, 2012)

Figure 23 shows the predicted increases in global cumulative wind power capacity based on these three scenarios up to 2030. By 2013, total installed wind capacity had already reached some 318,000 MW, approaching the 397,859 MW figure in the New Policies scenario for 2015 shown above (GWEC, 2014).

For Europe, a European Commission report (EC, 2009) which refers to the EU’s Strategic Energy Technologies Plan (SET-Plan (EU, 2010)), statest:

With additional research efforts, and crucially, significant progress in building the necessary grid structure over the next ten years, wind energy could meet one fifth of the EU’s electricity demand in 2020, one third in 2030 and half by 2050

(see also Zervos and Kjaer, 2009)

This would require achieving 400 GW wind energy capacity in 2030 and 600 GW in 2050, with the majority (350 GW) of the 2050 capacity coming from offshore turbines. Table 1 gives a summary of the wind energy capacity needed to meet the European Commission’s SET-Plan targets.

Table 1 Wind energy capacity needed to meet the European Commission’s SET-plan targets

Onshore wind (GW) Offshore Wind (GW) Total Wind Energy Capacity (GW) Average Capacity Factor Onshore Average Capacity Factor Offshore TWh Onshore TWh Offshore TWh Total EU-27 gross electricity Consumption* Wind Power’s Share of electricity demand
2020** 210 55 265 26.0% 42.3% 479 204 683 3494 20%
2030 250 150 400 27.0% 42.8% 592 563 1155 3368 34%
2050 250 350 600 29.0% 45.0% 635 1380 2015 4000 50%
* Electricity demand assumes the European Commission's New Energy Policy $100 oil/barrel and High Renewables/Energy Efficiency scenarios for 2030. Demand in 2050 is assumed to be 4000 TWh.
** Assuming 265 GW by 2020 in accordance with EWEA's 'high' scenarios combined with the European Commission's 'New Energy Policy' Assumption for demand.
Source: Zervos and Kjaer, 2009.

Wind energy looks set to become a major generator of electricity throughout the world. Particularly in Europe, the offshore exploitation of wind energy is likely to become one of the most important means of reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector. However, achieving the EWEA’s predicted 30% of 2030 EU electricity demand (or 50% of 2050 demand) will require considerable investment in electricity grids, interconnection and in other infrastructure, but it does appear that there is strong motivation from many governments and industries to facilitate this expansion.

Next you can attempt the Week 6 quiz.

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