Offshore wind could power most of Europe within 20 years

Source: By Heather Richards, E&E News reporter • Posted: Sunday, October 27, 2019

Denmark’s Horns Rev 1 offshore wind farm. Photo credit: Christian Steiness/Vattenfall/Flickr

Low-hanging fog over an offshore wind farm in Denmark. Christian Steiness/Vattenfall/Flickr

Offshore wind could be the largest single source of electricity for the European Union by 2040 if policy and technology continue to catapult the industry forward, according a report today by the International Energy Agency.

The report describes offshore as a potential cornerstone in a future decarbonized energy sector, absorbing the lion’s share of electricity needs in Europe where the industry is most advanced. It’s an excerpt of the findings in the World Energy Outlook 2019, which will be published next month.

In years to come, China and the United States are also expected to be big producers. As turbines get larger, blades get longer and offshore wind prices fall, the industry could play a critical role in the globe’s energy future, said Laura Cozzi of IEA, one of the report’s authors.

Offshore wind currently represents just 0.3% of the world’s power.

But the potential offshore wind resource could well meet demand. The potential deepwater wind resources alone, which would require floating technology, are 11 times greater than the total current electricity demand in the world, said Brent Wanner, another report author, in the webinar.

Fatih Birol, IEA’s executive director, said in a statement that offshore wind is poised to become the next great energy development, comparable to the shale revolution and solar photovoltaics.

Despite the rosy outlook for offshore’s potential, the report notes some of the sector’s challenges, as well, including the ability of the onshore grid to receive large loads of offshore power.

Another critical issue for growing industry is the readiness of its supply chain, from ports to construction equipment.

The report notes that government policies are needed to ensure wind developers can secure cheap financing. Financing accounts for between 35% and 50% of the total generation cost, the report notes.

Cozzi said yesterday that the potential for offshore described in the report could only be realized if industry continues to drive down costs through technological innovation.

The enormous turbines anticipated within a few years — nearly as tall as the Eiffel Tower by 2030, according to industry expectations — would be capable of capturing more wind, more of the time. That growing capacity factor is critical in comparing offshore wind to other power sources, said Wanner.

Offshore’s capacity outlook is “largely on par” with gas-fired generation and beats onshore wind and solar PV, he said.

“The performance of those turbines is really changing the nature of offshore wind,” he said.

Offshore wind generation will be competitive with other sources in China and Europe before 2030, he said.

But in the United States, where the shale revolution unleashed natural gas in record volumes, the economics are different. The report does not give a firm date for offshore wind to cross that competitive finish line here in the states.

Though the price of offshore electricity will continue to fall, the United States’ cheap natural gas resources create “a very low bar” for cost comparisons, said Wanner.