CO2 reductions from wind power in Europe

The most important greenhouse gas is CO2. There are different methodologies for calculating the CO2 avoided by wind energy and they all depend on the assumptions made about which fuels are displaced when electricity from wind energy is produced. The energy
mix together with the base load is different between Member States. Ideally wind power avoided CO2 should be calculated based on the energy mix and intermediate load in each Member State.

In this report it is assumed that wind energy avoids CO2 at the intermediate level but at the average EU-27 generation mix. Nuclear power is inflexible and cannot easily be ramped up and down. Therefore wind power does not replace operating nuclear generation except during scheduled and unscheduled nuclear shutdowns and nuclear decommissioning.

Wind power does not replace hydropower either, because hydropower serves as a storage technology for electricity. Electricity from hydro that is not used when wind power is operating will be saved for production later.

Consequently, for the EU as a whole it is assumed that each kWh of wind power displaces a kWh produced by the energy mix of coal, oil and gas at the time of production. This approach certainly underestimates wind energy’s CO2 avoidance because wind energy avoids the most expensive, inefficient and, hence, CO2 intensive production rather than the average production mix.

The EU energy mix is expected to change during the period up to 2030. According to the European Commission, thermal power stations in the EU produced 1,871 TWh in 2010 and emitted 1,302 Mt of CO2. Taking this into account, 1 TWh of wind energy saved 0.696 Mt of CO2 in 2010. Following the same approach and the European Commission’s data for 2015, 2020, 2025 and 2030 and applying a linear regression for the intermediate years, the avoided CO2 emissions are calculated. As a result, it is assumed that in 2020 wind energy will avoid 0.588 Mt CO2/TWh and 0.560 Mt CO2/TWh in 2030.

Taking into account the wind turbines production of 2010, wind energy avoided 126 Mt of CO2 in 2010. Following EWEA’s base scenario, the annual CO2 avoided from wind energy will increase to 342 Mt in 2020 and 646 Mt in 2030. At a CO2 price of €25/t, wind power avoided €3.1 billion in carbon costs in 2010. At the same price, wind power is estimated to avoid carbon costs of €8.5 billion in 2020 and €25.8 billion in 2030 assuming the price of CO2 reaches €40/t. It is important to note that the total CO2 reductions from wind power capacity in EWEA’s 2030 base scenario greatly exceed the annual figures because the wind turbines installed in a given year will deliver CO2 reductions over their lifetime – that is, for 20 to 25 years from the year of their fi rst installation – and therefore, far beyond 2030.

The commitment of EU-15 in 1997 in Kyoto was to reduce by 8% its greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) compared to their 1990 levels by 2008-2012. According to the agreement each of the 15 Member States has a different target as a result of a burden sharing approach. The new Member States’ targets are set individually at 8% except for Hungary and Poland who must reduce their GHGs by 6%.

Finally, the overall Kyoto reduction target for EU-25 (excluding Cyprus and Malta which have no obligation) is 7.8%, or 450 Mt of CO2 equivalents. The EU-15 needs to reduce its emissions by 342 Mt of CO2 equivalents. In 2007 the GHG emissions of all the EU-27 decreased by 9.3% compared to 1990 levels.