Wind energy could provide 20% of world power by 2030

Wind turbines could meet about a fifth of the world’s electricity demand within 20 years, an industry group and environmental watchdog Greenpeace predicted in a new report released on Tuesday.

The global market for wind farm grew 41.7 percent on year in 2009, beating average annual growth of 28.6 percent over the past 13 years, said Steve Sawyer, secretary general of the Global Wind Energy Council, or GWEC.

GWEC’s corporate members include Vestas, Siemens, GE Energy, Gamesa and Sinovel. The report said there were major uncertainties about the future of stalled U.N. talks on a new treaty to slow global warming that would promote investments in renewables in a shift from fossil fuels.

China ranked second in the world in installed wind farm generating capacity in 2009 and was the largest buyer of wind turbines technology, Sawyer told reporters at the launch of GWEC and Greenpeace’s Global Wind Energy Outlook 2010 report.

"We would expect China to continue to be the largest wind energy market and perhaps even be the (overall) largest market in the world by the end of this year," he said.

The report’s "advanced scenario" — its most optimistic outlook — projects the world’s combined installed wind turbines would produce 2,600 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity by 2020 — equal to 11.5 to 12.3 percent of power demand.

By 2030, wind energy would produce 5,400 TWh — 18.8 to 21.8 percent of the world’s power supply, the report said.

The more conservative "reference" scenario based on figures from the UN’s International Energy Agency saw wind power triple in the next decade to cover up to 4.8 percent of electricity — equal to Europe’s current total production.

The "moderate" scenario based on current industry figures would see wind power meet up to 9.5 percent of the world’s power demand by 2020, the report said.

"For more than the last 10 years, the actual performance of the wind industry has exceeded our advanced scenario every time," said Sawyer.

Under the advanced forecast, 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions would be saved each year, the report said.

This would increase to 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2 saved each year by 2030.

The cumulative amounts of CO2 saved would be 10 billion tonnes by 2020 and 34 billion tonnes by 2030, the report said.

When asked to compare China’s wind power industry to the US, Sawyer said Beijing was showing more leadership than Washington in alternative energy.

"At the moment, the Chinese wind energy market has most of the advantages in the sense that there’s a clear and supportive policy framework and very clear government support for developing a domestic industry," Sawyer said.

In its five -year market outlook, GWEC forecasts that global wind power will double between 2010 and 2014, reaching more than 400 GW. This increase will continue to be driven by growth in China, the US and Europe, but new countries are also entering the global wind map.

“As wind power is becoming more competitive, it is rapidly expanding beyond the traditional markets in North America and Europe. In fact, around half of the growth is now happening in emerging economies and developing countries,” said Sawyer. “We are seeing very encouraging signs from countries in Latin America, including Brazil, Mexico and Chile, as well as Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa.”

The Global Wind Energy Council and Greenpeace International are pleased to present this 3rd edition of the Global Wind Energy Outlook for 2010, the successor to the Wind Force 10 and Wind Force 12 series which began in 1999. What were once considered wild-eyed prognoses for a new technology have come to be recognised as an important planning tool for the future of the power sector.

Global wind power markets have been for the past several years dominated by three major markets: Europe, North America (US), and Asia (China and India). While these three markets still accounted for 86% of total installed capacity at the end of 2009, there are signs that this may be changing. Emerging markets in Latin America, Asia and Africa are reaching critical mass and we may be surprised to see one or more of them rise to challenge the three main markets in the coming years.

Commercial wind farms now operate in close to 80 countries, and present many benefits for both developed and developing countries: increased energy security; stable power prices; economic development which both attracts investment and creates jobs; reduced dependence on imported fuels; improved air quality; and, of course, CO2 emissions reductions. Each of these factors is a driver in different measure in different locations, but in an increasing number of countries they combine to make wind power the generation technology of choice.

What role will wind power play in the coming two decades and beyond? How much of the global electricity demand will it cover? How much CO2 will be saved by wind power in 2020 and in 2030? And what will it do for energy independence and economic growth? These are the questions that the GWEO seeks to answer. We present three scenarios for the development of the sector here, and play them off against two scenarios for electricity demand development to come up with a range of possible futures for the sector.

Our answers to these questions haven’t changed dramatically since the 2008 edition, although the performance of the industry in the last two years tracked ahead of our Advanced scenario. What has changed is the IEA’s R eference Scenario. In 2006, the Reference scenario projected 231 GW for 2020 – now that’s up to 415 GW; and for 2030, the Reference scenario projected 415 GW – now that’s up to 573GW. Of course, we still think those numbers are very low, but we were very pleased to see that the 2010 edition of the IEA’s publication Projected Costs of Generating Electricity has onshore wind power replacing oil to join coal, gas and nuclear as the main technologies which will compete for market share in the power sector of the future.

But that future remains uncertain. The global climate negotiations have at least temporarily ground to a halt after the world’s governments failed to come up with a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol in Copenhagen last year. In the absence of a clear international framework and without a clear prospect of a global price on carbon emissions, our focus has to be on the national and regional energy policies which drive local development. To quote the US President, ‘The nation that leads the world in creating new sources of clean energy will be the nation that leads the 21st-century global economy.’ An increasing number of governments around the world seem to have taken that message to heart.

The Global Wind Energy Outlook scenarios examine the future potential of wind power up to 2020, 2030 and 2050. Development of these scenarios was carried out as collaboration between the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), Greenpeace International and the German Aerospace Centre (DLR). Projections on the future of wind energy development have contributed to a larger study of global sustainable energy pathways up to 2050 conducted by DLR for Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC).

What will the growth of wind power look like? There are many variables that will determine its path, and we are presenting three different scenarios for each region, and for the world as a whole, looking first towards 2020, and then onwards to 2030 (see annex table for more long-term projections up to 2050). Each scenario starts with a range of assumptions which will influence expectations for the wind energy industry’s development.

Reference scenario

The most conservative ‘Reference’ scenario is based on the projections in the 2009 World Energy Outlook from the International Energy Agency (IEA). This takes into account only existing policies and measures, but includes assumptions such as continuing electricity and gas market reform, the liberalisation of cross-border energy trade and recent policies aimed at combating pollution. The IEA’s figures only go out to the year 2030, but based on these assumptions, DLR has extrapolated both the overall Reference scenario and the growth of wind power up to 2050.

Moderate scenario

The ‘Moderate’ scenario takes into account all policy measures to support renewable energy either already enacted or in the planning stages around the world. It also assumes that the targets set by many countries for either renewables, emissions reductions and/or wind energy are successfully implemented, as well as the modest implementation of new policies aimed at pollution and carbon emission reduction, and increased energy security. It also takes into account environmental and energy policy measures that were part of many government economic stimulus packages implemented since late 2008.

Up to 2014 the figures for installed capacity are closer to being forecasts than scenarios. This is because the data available from the wind energy industry shows the expected growth of worldwide markets over the next five years based on orders for wind turbines already committed, existing legislative programmes and targets, as well as known manufacturing capacity expansion plans. After 2014 the pattern of development is more difficult to anticipate.

Advanced scenario

The most ambitious scenario, the ‘Advanced’ version examines the extent to which this industry could grow in a best case ‘wind energy vision’. The assumption here is a clear and unambiguous commitment to renewable energy as per the industry’s recommendations, along with the political will necessary to carry it forward.

While again, the development after 2014 is more difficult to predict, this scenario is designed to show what the wind energy sector could achieve if it were given the political commitment and encouragement it deserves in light of the twin crises of energy security and global climate change.

Global scenario results

The GWEO scenarios show that even with the continuation of current policy measures to encourage wind power development and serious government efforts to meet existing targets, the resulting ‘Moderate scenario’ growth will put the development of wind power on a dramatically different trajectory from the IEA-based ‘Reference’ scenario.

With the political will to fully exploit each country’s wind resource and reap the accompanying economic, environmental and energy security benefits, the ‘Advanced scenario’ could be reached, which would see substantial wind power growth in many regions of the world. Wind power would then be instrumental in achieving a genuine energy revolution, putting the world on the path to a sustainable energy future.

We are now at a crossroads for making these decisions, which will determine the future of our energy systems as well as, to a great extent, the future of our planet.

Market growth rates used in these scenarios are based on a mixture of historical figures, current policies and trends, new market development, discussions of future energy policy and other factors. While cumulative annual growth rates of more than 25% per year, as envisaged in the ‘Advanced’ scenario, are unusually high in most industries that manufacture heavy equipment, the wind industry has consistently experienced much higher growth. In fact, the global wind markets have grown by an average 28% per year in terms of total installed capacity during the last decade.

In the GWEO Advanced scenario, the average annual growth for cumulative installed capacity is assumed to start off at 27% in 2010, and then gradually decline to 9% by 2020. By 2030, they will have dropped to 4%. Growth rates as anticipated by the IEA in the Reference scenario start at 17% in 2010, drop to 3% by 2015, stabilising at that level. The growth rates for the Moderate scenario range from 26% in 2010 to 9% in 2020 and to 5% in 2030.

It should also be borne in mind that while growth rates eventually decline to single figures across the range of scenarios, the level of wind power capacity envisaged in 20-40 years’ time means that even small percentage growth rates will by then translate into large figures in terms of annually installed megawatts, especially in the advanced and Moderate scenarios.

Scenario results

The IEA’s Reference scenario suggests – contrary to the clear upwards trend we have witnessed in the past – that growth rates for wind power would decrease substantially in the coming years, and that 2010 would see an addition of only 26.8 GW, which would represent a decrease of the annual market by 30% in 2010 (compared to an increase of 41% in 2009). The annual market would then continue to shrink until 2015 and only recover to reach its 2009 levels again just before 2030. The cumulative wind power capacity according to this projection would stand at 415 GW in 2020 and 572 GW in 2030. For this to happen, annual additions would need to decline substantially, especially in China, although there is no indication of this happening at present. Overall, the Reference scenario seems disconnected from current developments, and curiously pessimistic.

While the Reference scenario suggests that between 20 and 26 GW of new capacity will be added each year between 2010 and 2020, reaching 41 GW/year only in 2030, the Moderate scenario envisages the addition of 40.2 GW two decades earlier (in 2010), followed by 63 GW/year by 2015, close to 90 GW/year by 2020, and almost 150 GW/year by 2030. This translates into 100 GW more installations per year than the Reference scenario by 2030, even though the annual market growth rate would by then have dropped off to a modest 4% per year. In terms of total installed wind power capacity, 830 GW would be reached in 2020 (twice as much as under the Reference scenario), and close to 1,800 GW by 2030 (more than three times as much).

In the Advanced scenario, the difference would be even more striking. Annual market growth rates here start at 27% for 2010, and then decrease to 17% by 2015, 9% by 2020 and finally 5% by 2030 – compared to an average cumulative market growth of 28% per year over the past decade. These growth rates would translate into annual markets of 120 GW by 2020, increasing and stabilising at around 185 GW by 2030. These projections would result in a total installed capacity of just over 1,000 GW by 2020 and 2,300 GW by 2030.

Production and share of global electricity supply

Assumptions on turbine capacity

Individual wind turbines have been steadily growing in terms of their nameplate capacity – the maximum electricity output they achieve when operating at full power. While the average size of turbines still differs dramatically from country to country, there has been a market trend towards bigger turbines across all markets. For the purposes of the GWEO scenarios, this trend is expected to continue over the next few decades.

It is also assumed that each turbine will have an operational lifetime of 20 years, after which it will need to be replaced. This ‘repowering’ or replacement of older wind turbines has been taken into account in the scenarios.

…and capacity factors

A wind turbine’s ‘capacity factor’ refers to the percentage of the nameplate capacity that a turbine installed in a particular location will deliver over the course of a year. This is primarily an assessment of the wind resource at a given site, but capacity factors are also affected by the efficiency of the turbine and its suitability for the particular location. For example, a 1 MW turbine operating at a 25% capacity factor will deliver 2,190 MWh of electricity in one year.

From an estimated average capacity factor today of 25%, the scenario assumes that improvements in both wind turbine technology and the siting of wind farms will result in a steady increase. Capacity factors are also much higher at sea, where winds are stronger and more constant. The growing size of the offshore wind market, especially in Europe, will therefore contribute to an increase in the average. As a result, across all three scenarios, we assume that the average global capacity factor will increase to 28% by 2015 and then 30% by 2036.

Although capacity factors will vary from region to region, we have assumed these same global averages for the regional scenarios as outlined below.

Projections for electricity demand developments

While it is of interest to calculate how much power would actually be generated by wind energy in the three scenarios, putting this into the context of global electricity demand is even more relevant, as it will give us an idea of the share that wind power can have in satisfying the world’s increasing hunger for power. The three GWEO scenarios are therefore set against two projections for the future growth of electricity demand: a ‘Reference Demand Projection’; and an ‘Energy Efficiency Demand Projection’.

Reference demand projection

The more conservative of the two global electricity demand projections is again based on data from the IEA’s 2009 World Energy Outlook, including its assumptions on population and GDP growth, extrapolated forwards to 2050. It takes account of policies and measures that were enacted or adopted by mid-2009, but does not include possible or likely future policy initiatives.

The IEA’s estimation is that in the absence of new government policies, the world’s electricity demand will rise inexorably. Global demand would therefore almost double from the baseline 15,000 TWh in 2005 to reach nearly 29,000 TWh by 2030.

Energy efficiency demand projection

The IEA’s expectations on rising energy demand are then set against the outcome of a study on the potential effect of energy efficiency savings developed by DLR and the Ecofys consultancy. This study describes an ambitious development path for the exploitation of energy efficiency measures, based on current best practice technologies, emerging technologies that are currently under development and continuous innovation in the field of energy efficiency.

In reality, of course, constraints in terms of costs and other barriers, such as resistance to replacing existing equipment and capital stock before the end of its useful life, will prevent this ‘technical’ energy efficiency potential to be fully realised. In order to reflect these limitations, we have used the more moderate Energy Efficiency demand projection from the study, which is based on implementing around 80% of the technical potential.

This scenario results in global demand increasing by much less than under the Reference projection, i.e., to 25,000 TWh in 2030, which is 14% (or 4,000 TWh) lower.

Scenario results

On the basis of these energy demand projections, the share of wind power in the global electricity demand can be calculated. In the Reference scenario, wind power would produce 1,000 TWh of electricity by 2020, a trebling from the estimated 350 TWh produced by the 158.5 GW of wind capacity in 2009. Depending on the demand projection, this would cover between 4.5-4.8% of the world’s electricity needs, about the same share as is currently achieved in Europe. By 2030, 1,400 TWh would account for 4.9% to 5.6%. Overall, the contribution of wind power to the global electricity supply would remain small.