Wind energy: 2,000 GW by 2030

According to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), wind installations worldwide grew by 44% in 2014, adding over 51 GW and pointing to a “solid sign of the recovery of the industry after a rough patch in the past few years.” Cumulative global wind capacity stood around 370 GW at the end of 2014.

gwec-installed-capacity-2014 1

“Wind power is the most competitive way of adding new power generation capacity to the grid in a rapidly increasing number of markets around the world, even when competing against heavily subsidized incumbents,” boasted Steve Sawyer, GWEC Secretary General.

Even accounting for the typical hyperbole that accompanies self-congratulatory statements coming from organizations such as GWEC, obvious proponents of wind, the continued growth of wind installations globally cannot be dismissed or belittled.

For those who say it is all because of unsustainable subsidies, one can ask, why does nuclear power not flourish even when governments in the US and UK offer generous subsidies?

Among the interesting projections coming out of GWEC is a scenario analysis exercise that examined 3 alternative future growth trajectories for wind – 3 seems to be every scenario planner’s favorite number.

Under a scenario identifies as “advanced,” GWEC says installed global wind capacity could reach nearly 2,000 GW by 2030, a stunning number (graph above). If such a scenario were to materialize, wind could be supplying 16-18% of global electricity demand, even discounting for the fact that wind does not always blow.

Top 10 US wind generators: Installed capacity at end of 2014, MW

Wind 3

Source: 2015 Factbook: Sustainable energy in America, Bloomberg New Energy Finance & Business Council for sustainable energy, Feb 2015

In many countries or US states, this would not qualify as newsworthy today since wind accounts for much higher percentage of electricity demand, for example, in Denmark. But reaching double digit figures globally would be a feat.

Extrapolating the “advanced” scenario to 2050 would result in even more astonishing numbers, some 4,000 GW of installed global wind capacity. GWEC, of course, does not say this will or should happen, but that under certain conditions – one always needs to read the fine print – we could end up with this much wind.

Wind, of course, is a major growth industry in places where it has been supported, supplying a growing number of high-paying jobs, to the delight of supportive politicians.

The top ten wind generators in the US (graph above left) include a number of big players including many European firms who have found fertile ground in the US wind market.

Published Originally in EEnergy Informer: The International Energy Newsletter March 2015 Issue.