Over the complete life-cycle of wind power plants, emissions of CO2 are negligible. While the variable nature of wind power presents challenges, it does not negate its role in emissions reductions.
The emissions generated by the flexible reserves required for when variable renewables such as wind energy are not generating are greatly outweighed by the emissions avoided from increasing wind capacity. In the ETP BLUE scenario, gas capacity supporting variable renewables operates for just 440 full load hours per year, or eight and a half hours per week (IEA, 2008a).
Recent estimates suggest that sufficient energy is available in the wind to supply the planet’s needs for energy several times over. A recent assessment carried out by the European Environment Agency suggests that the potential in the European Union is about 30,400 TWh, seven times projected electricity demand in 2030. A similar report for the United States concluded “more than 8,000 GW of wind energy is available in the United States at $85/MWh or less … equivalent to roughly eight times the existing nameplate generating capacity in the country”.
Within this raw potential of wind to supply our power needs, however, the amount of wind resource that can presently be harvested in a cost effective manner is much less. This economically cost-effective potential will increase over time as the technology matures, the cost of energy falls, and power systems evolve the ability to incorporate greater wind energy production.
This roadmap outlines a set of quantitative measures and qualitative actions that define one global pathway for wind deployment to 2050. This roadmap starts with the IEA Energy Technology Perspectives (ETP) BLUE Map scenario, which describes how energy technologies may be transformed by 2050 to achieve the global goal of reducing annual CO2 emissions to half that of 2005 levels.
The model is a bottom-up MARKAL model that uses cost optimisation to identify least-cost mixes of energy technologies and fuels to meet energy demand, given constraints such as the availability of natural resources. The ETP model is a global fifteen-region model that permits the analysis of fuel and technology choices throughout the energy system. The model’s detailed representation of technology options includes about 1,000 individual technologies. The model has been developed over a number of years and has been used in many analyses of the global energy sector. In addition, the ETP model was supplemented with detailed demand-side models for all major end-uses in the industry, buildings and transport sectors.
By 2030, approximately 2,700 terawatt hours (TWh) of wind electricity is estimated to be produced annually from over 1,000 GW of wind capacity, corresponding to 9% of global electricity production. This rises to 5,200 TWh (12%, over 2,000 GW) in 2050. An essential message of the ETP study is that there is no single energy technology solution that can solve the combined challenges of climate change, energy security and access to energy. The ETP model is based on competition among a range of technology options, and the resulting technology portfolio reflects a least cost option to reduce CO2 emissions, rather than the maximum possible wind deployment.
The wind industry suggests that production could increase considerably more if strong, early action is taken by governments worldwide to support deployment. Industry projections for wind energy deployment reach 5,400 TWh in 2030, and 9 100 TWh in 2050 (GWEC, 2008).
While offshore wind power remains more expensive, deployment is expected to take place mainly on land. The present offshore industry is located almost entirely in Northern Europe where land resources with good wind conditions are scarcer than in regions like North America and China. Moreover, water depth is a principal cost factor in offshore development, and the majority of offshore deployment is taking place in the North, Baltic and Irish Seas, which are areas of continental shelf (shallower seas) and so are currently less costly for wind development than in deeper oceans. It will be critical to place greater emphasis on offshore technology R&D to achieve roadmap targets for cost effective wind energy.
According to the BLUE Map scenario, in 2020 OECD Europe remains the leading market for wind power, followed by the United States and then China. By 2030 China overtakes the United States (557 TWh and 489 TWh respectively), and OECD Pacific countries emerge as an important market at 233 TWh. By 2050, China leads with 1,660 TWh, followed by OECD Europe and the United States, which are shown to remain steady from 2030, and then by OECD Pacific countries and Central and South America. The remaining regions, including India, Africa and the Middle East, provide nearly one-fifth of wind electricity in 2050.
CO2 abatement from wind energy under the BLUE Map scenario reaches a total of 2,100 Mt per year over the Reference Scenario in 2050 (2,800 Mt in total). China makes the largest contribution with 635 million tonnes (Mt) avoided, followed by OECD Europe at 462 Mt, and Central and South America with 215 Mt.
Comparisons with other scenarios
There are important differences between the ETP BLUE Map scenario and the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) Advanced Scenario, in terms of global growth projected. In particular, the scenarios have different pathways for the accelerated growth of wind power in regions that currently have little installed wind energy capacity. For example, the GWEC Advanced Scenario projects over 630 GW of installed capacity in India, Eastern Europe and former Soviet Union countries, the Middle East, other developing Asian countries and Africa combined in 2030.
In contrast, the ETP BLUE Map scenario estimates just over 100 GW. Markets in North America and China are also twice the size projected in BLUE Map, with 520 GW and 451 GW respectively.
The recent US DOE report, 20% Wind Energy by 2030, projects 300 GW of installed capacity in 2030, compared with 211 GW in the ETP BLUE Map scenario (US DOE, 2008). For the European Union, the wind industry projects from 300 GW to 350 GW in its “moderate” and “high” scenarios respectively. ETP BLUE Map for OECD Europe projects 360 GW. China is likely to adopt an official target of 100 GW wind power by 2020, less than the 128 GW envisaged in ETP. So, while it is clear there are different pathways for wind deployment, this roadmap, and the ETP BLUE Map scenario on which it is based, represents a realistic pathway for major expansion in global wind energy.
Potential for cost reductions
Technology innovation remains a crucial driver for reduced LCOE of wind energy. The cost of onshore wind turbines (about 75% of the total onshore investment cost) has decreased by around a factor of three since the early 1980s, although since 2004 cost reductions have not been fully realised due to inflated prices from supply constraints and higher commodity prices among other factors.
Until recently, the scaling up of turbines was an important driver for cost reductions but affordable materials with higher strength to mass ratios are necessary before turbines will grow much further cost-effectively. Nonetheless, with sufficient research efforts, technological innovation will continue to improve energy capture by the rotor (particularly at low speeds, in complex terrain and under turbulent conditions); increase the time offshore plants are available for operation; reduce O&M requirements; extend turbine lifespans; and reduce the cost of components. Additionally, the opening of new markets and resulting economies of scale, as well as stronger supply chains, have the potential to yield further cost reductions.
The ETP BLUE Map scenario assumes a learning rate for wind energy of 7% onshore and 9% offshore up to 2050. Starting from USD 1.7 million (EUR 1.2 million)/MW in 2010, onshore investment costs decrease to USD 1.4 million (EUR 0.95 million)/MW in 2030, and to USD 1.3 million (EUR 0.88 million)/MW in 2050. Over the period, this would be a total cost reduction of 23%. The analysis assumes a 17% cost reduction in onshore O&M costs by 2030, and by 23% in 2050.
The US DOE assumes a 10% reduction in onshore LCOE is possible by 2030 (alongside an average capacity factor increase of six percentage points). The report assumes a 14% reduction in overall O&M costs (37% of variable O&M costs).
Given its state of development, offshore wind energy, especially deep offshore, is likely to see faster reductions in cost. Offshore investment costs in the ETP BLUE Map scenario fall by 27% by 2030, and by 38% in 2050. Greater reliability, availability and reduced O&M cost are particularly important for offshore development as access can be difficult and expensive. The roadmap assumes that offshore O&M costs will have fallen by 25% in 2030, and by 35% in 2050.
Global investment to 2050
Approximately USD 3.2 trillion of investment (EUR 2.2 trillion) will be required to reach the BLUE Map finding of 12% global electricity produced from wind energy in 2050. While this number seems large, it is just 1% of the additional investment needs required to achieve the BLUE Map goal of reducing CO2 emissions 50% by 2050.
Current investment in wind power deployment is considerable, but not sufficient. Wind power saw nearly USD 52 bn (EUR 35 bn) of new investment in 2008, of which asset finance, investment in new generation assets, made up 92% (UNEP, 2009). The BLUE Map scenario projects over 2 000 GW of installed capacity in 2050, up from 120 GW in 2008. This would require an average annual installation of 47 GW for the next 40 years, up from 27 GW in 2008. This is equal to an additional 75% over present investment, to around USD 81 bn per year (EUR 55 bn).
The most ambitious global industry projection considers 3 498 GW installed by 2050, which would require an average annual installation rate of 84 GW, the equivalent of trebling the present installation rate.
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