GLOBAL WIND ENERGY COUNCIL (GWEC)
In 2016, wind power continued to push the boundaries of what many thought was possible.
On 15 May, a combination of wind and solar provided Germany with nearly 100% of its power needs. On a stormy day in August, wind turbines in Scotland generated more electricity than the entire country used on that day. Denmark now produces more than 40% of its electricity from wind turbines. And in the US, which now produces 2.5 times more wind energy than it did 5 years ago, recent polling found that 70% of registered voters view wind energy favourably.
This dramatic shift – in policy and practice – towards renewable energy sources like wind is largely being driven by one overarching consideration: cost.
Wind turbine prices have fallen by almost a third since 2009. Onshore wind is now one of the most competitive sources of electricity available with some projects now delivering electricity for as little as 4 US cents per kWh. Compared to onshore wind, nuclear power costs three times more to produce in the Americas and energy from new coal-fired or gas-fired power plants costs up to 30% more in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
And wind power costs are expected to decline even further. With the right policies in place, IRENA research finds that average electricity costs could decrease by 35% for offshore wind and 26% for onshore wind by 2025.
The fact remains that wind is one of the least-cost options in many markets for new power generation, and this is even before factoring in environmental and health costs. IRENA estimates that doubling the global share of renewables by 2030 would save up to $4.2 trillion dollars annually thanks to avoided expenditures on air pollution and climate change.
But it’s not just cost that is driving the wind boom. There are four other key environmental and social challenges that point to renewables like wind as a smarter energy solution:
- Jobs – Renewable energy employs more people per unit of electricity than oil or gas. More than 1 million people worldwide are employed by the wind industry alone, a 5% increase over last year. Wind employment in the US rose by 21% in 2015 – 12 times faster than overall job creation in the US economy. If we double the global share of renewables by 2030, renewable energy employment would exceed 24 million people worldwide.
- Water – Water is an essential ingredient in the energy production process. In the EU for example, energy production accounts for 44% of total water use. During power generation, solar power withdraws 200 times less water than a coal power plant to produce the same amount of electricity. Wind power requires no water. IRENA analysis finds that doubling the share of renewable energy, in particular solar PV and wind, could reduce water withdrawals in the power sector as much as 52% in the UK, 37% in the US, 32% in Australia, 28% in Germany and 12% in India.
- Public health/air pollution – Doubling the share of renewables would also decrease harmful emissions from pollutants such as ammonia, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, and sulphur dioxide by 82%, 33%, 27% and 12% respectively, saving up to 4 million lives per year by 2030. The largest air pollution savings would come from the power sector, mainly due to reduced coal use. China, India, Indonesia and the USA would accrue the greatest health savings, along with all developing countries thanks to the reduced use of traditional biomass.
- Climate change – The energy sector accounts for more than two thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions. As such, energy must be our priority in bringing down CO2 emissions. Renewable energy can deliver half of all emission reductions needed to keep temperature rise below 2°C while energy efficiency measures can deliver the other half. Renewables and efficiency are the only technologies that can be deployed fast enough and at sufficient scale to meet the target set in Paris.
More and more countries around the world are now seeing that choosing renewables, like wind, is not only the most economic pathway, but also the most socially and environmentally advantageous. It would create more jobs, save millions of lives from reduced air pollution and set us on a pathway to limit global temperature rise to two degrees as agreed in Paris.
The wind industry has come a long way, but still more has to be done. World wind power generation capacity reached 435 gigawatts at the end of 2015, which is only 7% of total global power generation capacity. To push this figure higher, governments should implement a range of measures and support schemes like feed in tariffs, renewable portfolio standards in combination with auctions, and production tax credits. As shares of wind continue to increase, countries must also take steps to create power systems that can integrate large amounts of variable wind energy, exploring smart grids, storage technologies and other grid management mechanisms.
The recent ground-breaking achievements of wind and other renewable energy sources have proven that we have yet to truly tap into their full potential. With the right support policies in place that boost investment, foster innovation and spur further development, renewables can deliver the clean energy future we need, in record time.
GWEC has been a strong collaborator with IRENA since the beginning, and this report, the latest in a series that goes back to 1999, provides valuable insights at what the future holds for wind power. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with GWEC in the coming years.
About the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC)
“The Global Wind Energy Council is the international trade association for the wind power industry…Our mission is to ensure that wind power establishes itself as the answer to today’s energy challenges, providing substantial environmental and economic benefits.”