Can wind dominate power sector growth?

9 December 2016

The 2016 edition of GWEC’s biennial report, Global Wind Energy Outlook, suggests that a 20% contribution by wind power to global electricity demand by 2030 is a real possibility. Staff report

In October the Global Wind Energy Council released its biennial Global Wind Energy Outlook. It’s main, and rather startling conclusion, is that aeolian energy could, given a fair wind, supply 20% of global electricity by 2030, and more than double that by 2050. Current figures suggest that such a future is not so far- fetched as it might seem. Global wind energy installations totalled 433 GW as at end–2015, and the industry is set to grow by another 60 GW or thereabouts in 2016.

The report looks at four scenarios for the future of the wind industry out to 2020, 2030 and 2050, comparing the International Energy Agency’s central scenario from its World Energy Outlook with a ‘Moderate’ vision and with an ‘Advanced’ scenario developed especially for the report. Together they show how the global wind industry might look in terms of global electricity supply, CO2 emission savings, employment, cost reductions, and investment.

The IEA’s New Policies scenario shows the global wind market returning to 2014 levels in 2016 and then gradually decreasing and stabilising at about the 2010 market level after 2020, and only growing very slightly from that level out to 2030. Its 450 Scenario also sees the market returning to 2014 levels in 2016, dipping to 2012 levels by 2018 and then recovering to 2014 levels by the end of the decade, reaching 2015 levels again in 2022/12. This is in line with recent low-carbon energy developments and an optimistic interpretation of the value of the commitments made within the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions arisingfromtheParisClimateagreementin December 2015.

Paris and beyond

By 2030 wind power could reach 2110 GW, and supply up to 20% of global electricity, creating 2.4 million new jobs and reducing CO2 emissions by more than 3.3 billion tonnes per year: and attract annual investment of about €200 billion.

With dramatic price decreases in recent years for wind, solar and other renewables, a decarbonised power sector is not only technically feasible, but is economically competitive as well. New markets are developing rapidly across Africa, Asia and Latin America, supplying clean energy to support sustainable development. “Wind power is the most competitive option for adding new capacity to the grid in a growing number of markets,” continued Sawyer, “but if the Paris agreement targets are to be reached, that means closing fossil fuel fired power plants and replacing them with wind, solar, hydro, geothermal and biomass. That will be the hard part, and governments will have to get serious about it if they are to live up to the commitments to which they have now bound themselves.”

Transport and wind

“Decarbonising the global energy system includes the transport sector as a major emitter of carbon. The market for electric mobility, both in regard to electric vehicles as well as public transport, will continue to grow significantly and with this electricity demand for the transport sector. Wind power is in a pole position to supply this future power demand making the wind industry one of the key industries of the energy sector”, said the report’s lead analyst Dr Sven Teske, research principal for the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology in Sydney.


As a baseline the new report examines the International Energy Agency’s central scenario from its World Energy Outlook, the New Policies Scenario, and compares it with the IEA’s 450 Scenario, the GWEC Moderate Scenario and the GWEC Advanced Scenario. These four supply-side scenarios are then compared with two different scenarios for the development of electricity demand. Results are shown in Tables 1 to 5 and Figures 1 to 3. The Outlook itself of course contains more detail than shown here.

GWEC included the IEA’s 450 Scenario in acknowledgement of the fact that climate consequences of different energy pathways have once again risen up the international political agenda. It has updated two scenarios, the GWEC Moderate Scenario and the GWEC Advanced Scenario, specifically for this new report. These two have evolved collaboratively over the years between the Global Wind Energy Council and the German Aerospace Centre (Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft-und-Raumfahrt – DLR).

The IEA’s New Policies Scenario (NPS) is based on an assessment of current directions and intentions of both national and international energy and climate policy, even though they may not yet have been incorporated into formal decisions or enacted into law. Examples of this would include the emissions reduction targets adopted in Paris in 2015, the various commitments to renewable energy and efficiency at national and regional levels, and commitments by governments in such forums as the G-8/G-20 and the Clean Energy Ministerial. The New Policies scenario is now at the centre of the IEA’s World Energy Outlook analysis, and GWEC has extrapolated it out to 2050.

The 450 Scenario sets out an energy pathway that would have a 50% chance of limiting the global increase in average temperature to 2 °C, which would require the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to be limited to around 450 ppm of carbon- dioxide equivalent in the long-term. The 450 Scenario deliberately selects a plausible energy pathway to achieve the desired goal.

GWEC’s Moderate Scenario (MS) has many of the same characteristics as the NPS, taking into account all policy measures to support renewable energy either already enacted or in the planning stages around the world, and at the same time assuming that the commitments for emissions reductions agreed by governments at COP21 (Paris, 2015) will be implemented, but on the modest side. For the period after 2020 it is difficult to make a precise forecast given the current set of global uncertainties, but GWEC assumes that at that stage an even broader range of governments will begin to respond to essential asks of national energy security and long-term price stability offered by wind energy. Further, the cost of wind continues to fall and the price of conventional generation continues to increase.

GWEC’s Advanced scenario (AS) is the most ambitious, and represents a best case. It assumes an unambiguous commitment to renewable energy in line with industry recommendations, and the political will to commit to appropriate policies. It does not assume huge new-build nuclear or a large take up of CCS technology.

The AS also assumes that governments enact clear and effective policies on carbon emission reductions in line with the now universally agreed objective of keeping global mean temperature rise below 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures. Wind power is critical to meeting the first objective – which is getting global emissions to peak and begin to decline before 2020.

The Energy Efficiency demand projection only taps a portion of the potential for energy savings and increased efficiency available right now but it is an indicator of what can be done at low or no cost, and extrapolation from the IEA scenarios to 2050 results in ‘savings’ against the NPS scenario of 4.5% of demand by 2020, 8.7% by 2030, 9.2% by 2040, and 13.2% by 2050.

“Now that the Paris Agreement is coming into force, countries need to get serious about what they committed to last December. Meeting the Paris targets means a completely decarbonised electricity supply well before 2050, and wind power will play the major role in getting us there,” said Steve Sawyer, GWEC secretary general.  

Wind Figure 2. Wind power share of global demand to 2050
Wind Table 4. Wind power share of global electricity demand to 2050
Wind Table 3. Regional capacity breakdown for Moderate and Advanced scenarios, selected areas, GW
Wind Table 5. Specific build costs €/kW
Wind Table 1. Projected global wind power capacity under four scenarios
Wind Table 2. Regional capacity breakdown for New Policies and 450 scenarios, selected areas, GW
Wind Figure 1. Regional capacity breakdown. (Left) Moderate scenario, (right) Advanced scenario
Wind Figure 3. Global cumulative wnd power capacity to 2050, MW

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