This report provides a Europe-wide resource assessment of onshore and offshore wind potential in a geographically explicit manner. In addition to calculating raw wind resource potential, this study also introduces and quantitatively analyses the environmental and social constraints on wind sector development. Concerns addressed include the noise and visual impact of wind power, as well as the deaths of birds and bats that fly into rotor blades. The report also evaluates the future costs of wind energy production across Europe in order to gauge the potential output at competitive rates.
Published: 08 Jun 2009
Wind power — a fast growing renewable energy
The European Union has ambitious targets in the field of environment and energy policy. The new ‘climate-energy legislative package’ sets mandatory national target corresponding to a 20 % share of renewable energies in overall Community energy consumption by 2020 and a mandatory 10 % minimum target to be achieved by all Member States for the share of renewable energy in transport consumption by 2020.
As a proven source of clean, affordable energy, wind resources clearly have a vital role to play in realising these goals. It is little surprise, therefore, that the wind power sector has grown exponentially in recent years. At the end of 2008, there were 65 GW of wind power capacity installed in the EU-27 producing 142 TWh hours of electricity, and meeting 4.2 % of EU electricity demand.
European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) projections suggest that the wind power sector will continue to expand fast. But determining where capacity can be developed most cost-effectively, the likely competitiveness of wind energy relative to average energy costs, and the role of wind power in the future energy mix calls for detailed, land use based analysis.
This report responds to that need, providing a Europe-wide resource assessment of onshore and offshore wind potential in a geographically explicit manner. In addition to calculating raw wind resource potential, this study also introduces and quantitatively analyses the environmental and social constraints on wind sector development. Concerns addressed include the noise and visual impact of wind power, as well as the deaths of birds and bats that fly into rotor blades. The report also evaluates the future costs of wind energy production across Europe in order to gauge the potential output at competitive rates.
This report commences with an analysis of local wind resources across Europe, primarily based on wind speed data. Those findings are then used along with projections of wind turbine technology development to calculate the maximum amount of wind energy that could be generated (the technical potential) in 2020 and 2030.
Evidently, raw potential is only part of the story. Policymakers need to know how much wind energy is feasible in practical terms and that calls for the integration of other factors into the analysis. For that reason, the subsequent analysis uses various proxies to convey both the (socially and environmentally) ‘constrained potential’ for wind energy development and the ‘economically competitive potential’.
To calculate ‘constrained potential’, Natura 2000 and other protected areas are excluded from the calculations of wind energy potential. Although it is not illegal to site wind farms on Natura 2000 sites they provide a useful proxy for the restrictions implied by biodiversity protection. Offshore, constrained potential accounts for public opposition to having wind farms visible from the coast and the limitations imposed by other uses such as shipping routes, military areas, oil and gas exploration, and tourist zones.
‘Economically competitive potential’ is calculated based on the forecasted costs of developing and running wind farms in 2020 and 2030, relative to projected average energy generation costs derived from the Commission’s baseline scenario. This scenario is based on the CO2 price of 22 EUR/t CO2 in 2020 and 24 EUR/t CO2 in 2030 and on oil prices of 55 USD/bbl in 2005 rising to 63 USD/ bbl in 2030. It does not include policies to reduce greenhouse gases in view of the Kyoto and possible post-Kyoto commitments.
This study confirms that wind energy can play a major role in achieving the European renewable energy targets. The extent of wind energy resources in Europe is very considerable.
Leaving aside some of the environmental, social and economic considerations, Europe’s technology projections suggest that it may be equivalent to almost 20 times energy demand in 2020.
Onshore wind energy potential is concentrated in agricultural and industrial areas of north-western Europe. Likewise, the largest offshore potential can be found in low depth areas in the North Sea, the Baltic Seas and the Atlantic Ocean, with some local opportunities in areas of the Mediterranean and Black Seas.
The deep offshore potential is even larger but costs mean that it is unlikely to contribute in any significant way to the energy mix within the time horizon of this study.
Onshore, the environmental constraints considered appear to have limited impact on wind energy potential. When Natura 2000 and other designated areas are excluded, onshore technical potential decreased by just 13.7 % to 39000 TWh. However, social constraints, particularly concerns regarding the visual impact of wind farms, may further limit the onshore wind energy development.
Offshore, the environmental and social constraints applied have a larger impact on potential. Using only 4 % of the offshore area within 10 km from the coast and accounting for the restrictions imposed by shipping lane, gas and oil platforms, military areas, Natura 2000 areas etc. reduces the potential by more than 90 % (to 2 800 TWh in 2020 and 3 500 in 2030).
When production costs are compared to the PRIMES baseline average electricity generation cost, the onshore potential for wind decreases to 9 600 TWh in 2020, whereas offshore wind potential decreases to 2 600 TWh. Despite being a small proportion of the total technical potential, the economically competitive wind energy potential still amounts to more than three times projected demand in 2020.
However, high penetration levels of wind power will require major changes to the grid system i.e. at higher penetration levels additional extensions or upgrades both for the transmission and the distribution grid might be required to avoid congestion of the existing grid. Moreover, power flow needs to be continuously balanced between generation and consumption. The total requirement depends on the applied interconnection, geographical dispersion and forecasting techniques of wind power.
Economically competitive potential figures do not include these aspects and the relevant costs. The fact that the competitive potential even in a relative short time horizon is much bigger than the electricity demand means that the key need for policy makers should be on facilitating the integration of wind energy into the energy system via research and development. Field testing of integration strategies along with initiatives aimed at making demand more responsive to fluctuations in supply is needed.
A higher penetration of electric vehicles could potentially be one such application, albeit not one that is analysed in this report. The average power production costs to determine the competitive potential are dependent on the fossil fuel and carbon prices. These will vary depending on developments in the global economy as well as developments in scale and cost of greenhouse gas mitigation efforts. The assumptions used here as deemed rather conservative.
Thus, the economically competitive wind potential can be higher than presented. On the other hand applying a single average production cost disregards the regional price differences among different regions (i.e availability of hydro in Northern Europe) and its impact on the electricity price.