The Paris Agreement has officially been ratified by the 55 countries needed to bring it into force. This means there is going to be a global push to reduce global warming to less than 2° C, and ideally below 1.5° C, over the next century. Wind power is going to play a huge part in achieving this goal.
Steve Sawyer is the Secretary General of the Global Wind and Energy Council (GWEC), the international trade association for the wind power industry. Sawyer is aware that wind power is integral to reaching the global warming target but there’s a way to go yet. He says: “Renewables development, led by wind, would need to accelerate to something in line with the GWEC Advanced Scenario, which puts us at penetration of approximately 20 percent of global electricity supply by 2030.”
The GWEC Advanced Scenario is based on ambitious growth rates being maintained through until the end of the decade, and assumes big changes within the electricity sector happen quickly with the ratification of the Paris Agreement.
Full decarbonisation needs to be part of the plan to have any hopes of reaching these targets as Sawyer explains: “The economics, energy security and job/industry creation attributes of wind energy may on their own drive us to 20 percent global wind power by 2030, but that seems rather optimistic without a concerted global effort to decarbonise the power sector by 2050, which is the minimum requirement for keeping within the 2° C; and it would have to happen much sooner to get anywhere close to 1.5° C.”
While many countries are already embracing wind power, there are plenty of emerging markets that are just scratching the surface of what’s possible. One of the GWEC’s targets for 2017 is to continue to support the new markets in China, India, South Africa, Brazil and Mexico.
Sawyer explains that much of the growth for wind energy over the coming year will be in Asia, Africa and Latin America: “In volume terms, the greatest growth will be in Asia, led by China and India but also in a number of other growing markets in the region including the Philippines, Vietnam, Mongolia, Thailand, Indonesia, Pakistan and soon, we hope, in Iran.
“In percentage terms, Africa will see the largest growth but Latin America will also see large volume of growth as other countries in the region add to the strong markets in Brazil and Mexico.”
The FOWIND project
As part of the GWEC’s support of countries developing a wind power industry, the council is backing the FOWIND project. The project facilitates offshore wind power development in India and in turn contributes to India’s transition towards use of clean technologies in the power sector.
Sawyer says: “It’s an EU supported project whose ultimate objective is to develop a roadmap for a sustainable offshore wind industry and market in India. 2017 will be the final full year of the project, which started at the end of 2013.”
The current wind power market
At the end of 2015 there were 432.8 GW (432,833 MW) of electricity being generated through wind power, a jump of 60 GW (60,000 MW) on 2014, in 2016 that number jumped another 60GW. When you consider that 432 GW of wind power can generate approximately the same amount of electricity over a year as 236 coal power plants, or 148 nuclear power plants, or 198 natural gas power plans, the power of wind is obvious.
This shows the impact wind energy has on electricity production and it’s much more efficient and cost effective than some critics may have us believe. Sawyer often points out that wind power is generally cheaper than its fossil fuel counterparts. He says: “I point to the current prices in Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, Morocco, Chile, Peru as well as the United States and Canada where wind power is generally much cheaper (for new build) than the conventional alternatives.”
Many critics also call wind power inefficient, something Sawyer doesn’t understand. He says: “I never know what is meant by ‘efficiency’ in this case. What are ‘the critics’ supposed to be measuring? The effectiveness with which wind turbines extract energy from a moving stream of air? The theoretical maximum energy that can be extracted from a moving column of air is 59.3 percent, called the Betz limit. However, as the fuel is free, what is the relevance? What is relevant is the cost of the electricity that comes out the other end.”
Moving forward with the Paris Agreement
In the past, it’s been vitally important that major players in the energy market agree on these large climate promises. However, in the last 25 years, the US has been reluctant to agree and this has held back China, India, Australia and Canada. The Paris Agreement, however, seems to be different with more countries recognising its importance.
Sawyer says: “Countries seem willing to move ahead without the US, although most would welcome their participation and it’s too soon to tell what the new administration is actually going to do.
“Having said that, the participation of the world’s largest economy is obviously critical in the long term; and it would be much better if it participated in the short term as well.”
The future of wind energy
After two record breaking years in 2014 then 2015, the wind power industry doesn’t seem to be slowing in growth and with Paris Agreement now in place, many countries are looking to wind to further the goal towards decarbonisation.
Sawyer believes cost could be another driving factor, he says: “I think the precipitous drop in prices for offshore projects in the past few months is going to have a significant impact on that sector – certainly in the short term and probably in the medium term. Policymakers in other parts of the world are starting to notice; and we may have more projects like our current work in India in other markets around the world in the coming years.”
With wind being one of the most cost-effective ways for countries to meet goals for renewables and reduce the dependency on fossil fuels, there’s no doubt it’ll play a big part in the future of our planet.