Wind power to increase as countries ‘get serious’ post-Paris

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, October 20, 2016

Wind turbines could supply 20 percent of the world’s electricity as countries invest billions in low- and zero-carbon energy sources to comply with international treaties on greenhouse gases and climate change, according to new projections.

In its latest biennial “Global Wind Energy Outlook” report, the Brussels-based Global Wind Energy Council said wind power could account for more than 2,100 gigawatts of generation capacity by 2030. That would attract roughly $220 billion in annual investment while reducing carbon dioxide emissions by more than 3.3 billion tons per year.

That’s a more than 400 percent increase over current global wind energy capacity, projected to be just under 500 GW by the end of 2016, or between 7 and 8 percent of global electricity generation.

The report forecasts the future of the wind energy industry out to 2020, 2030 and 2050, using International Energy Agency scenarios as a baseline for drawing its own projections, which include both moderate and advanced scenarios.

“Now that the Paris Agreement is coming into force, countries need to get serious about what they committed to last December,” GWEC Secretary General Steve Sawyer said, adding that compliance with U.N. climate accords “means a completely decarbonized electricity supply well before 2050, and wind power will play the major role in getting us there.”

Moreover, the report notes that sharply falling costs for wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy have made carbon-free power economically competitive across much of the world, with “new markets developing rapidly across Africa, Asia and Latin America,” where it is supplying clean energy to sustainable development projects.

The report also cited “unprecedented policy stability in the U.S. market,” aided by an unambiguous glide path for the 2.3-cent-per-kilowatt-hour production tax credit to shrink and then expire after 2020, as well as “strong and continued commitment [for wind energy] from India and China.”

“Onshore wind power has become the least-cost option when adding new capacity to the grid in an increasing number of markets, and prices continue to fall,” the outlook said. “Given the urgency to cut CO2 emissions, clean our air and decrease reliance on imported fossil fuels, wind power’s pivotal role in the world’s future energy supply is assured.”

But Sawyer, in a statement, warned that the path to decarbonization will not be easy, and that governments will have to be proactive about replacing older fossil fuel power plants with cleaner alternatives if they plan to meet binding commitments agreed to under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“Wind power is the most competitive option for adding new capacity to the grid in a growing number of markets,” he said. “But if the Paris agreement targets are to be reached, that means closing fossil fuel fired power plants and replacing them with wind, solar, hydro, geothermal and biomass.”

Broadly, the latest outlook shows that China remains the world’s No. 1 wind energy market, with 145.3 GW of installed capacity at the end of 2015, nearly double the installed capacity of the United States, which ranked No. 2 with 74.4 GW of installed capacity. Germany, India and Spain rounded out the top five wind energy producers in 2015, followed by the United Kingdom, Canada, France and Brazil.

Regionally, Asia is projected to lead the world in wind power capacity in 2020, 2030 and 2050, thanks to continued rapid growth in China and India, followed by the European Union and North America, GWEC found.

Under GWEC’s “advanced scenario,” wind energy capacity will surge to 2,110 GW by 2030, according to the report, whereas under a “moderate scenario,” installed capacity will be 1,675 GW by 2030. Both of GWEC’s projections are higher than what IEA found in its scenarios.

The report also predicts substantially higher reductions in greenhouse gas emissions as wind energy capacity grows. Under its moderate scenario, GWEC projects reductions of 1.17 billion tons of CO2 per year by 2020 and more than 2.6 billion tons by 2030. Advanced scenario projections place annual CO2 reductions at nearly 1.3 billion tons in 2020 and 3.3 billion tons in 2030.

“Wind energy technology has an extremely good energy balance,” the report notes, adding that all CO2 emissions related to the manufacturing, installation, servicing and decommissioning of a turbine are generally “paid back” within the first year of operation.