Wind Power Could Supply 25% of Global Electricity By 2050 — If Fossil Fuel Industry Doesn't Get in the Way

wind power, clean energy

Wind power has become so successful that it could provide 25 to 30 per cent of global electricity supply by mid-century if vested interests don’t get in the way, according to a new report published Tuesday.

The report — Global Wind Energy Outlook 2014 — said that commercial wind power installations in more than 90 countries had a total installed capacity of 318 gigawatts (GW) at the end of 2013, providing about three per cent of global electricity supply.

By 2030, the report said, wind power could reach 2,000 GW, supply up to 17 to 19 per cent of global electricity, create over two million new jobs and reduce CO2 emissions by more than three billion tonnes per year.

The report published by the Global Wind Energy Council and Greenpeace International noted that while emissions-free wind power continues to play a growing role in international electricity supply, political, economic and institutional inertia is hampering attempts to deal with the consequences of climate change.

The fossil fuel industry, the most powerful vested interest in the world today, continues to do everything it can to obfuscate the science and slow down political progress,” the report said.

Not their least pernicious influence is on the politicians they own, particularly those in the U.S. Congress – and in the places where the fossil fuel industry is a family business masquerading as a national government in the Persian Gulf – and in the places where fossil fuel exports have become a blunt political and military instrument to bludgeon recalcitrant neighbours into submission.”

Using the International Energy Agency’s New Policies scenario from the World Energy Outlook as a baseline, the 58-page Global Wind Energy Outlook (GWEO) report developed both a moderate and an advanced scenario to explore the future of the wind energy industry from 2020 to 2050.

Under the moderate scenario, which takes into account all policy measures to support renewable energy either already enacted or in the planning stages around the world, wind energy potential will quadruple between 2020 and 2050 from 712 to 2,672 GW.

(For detail junkies, the projected increases are as follows: 712 GW of cumulative wind power capacity by 2020, 1,479 GW by 2030, 2,089 GW by 2040 and 2,672 GW by 2050.)

The advanced scenario outlines the extent to which the wind industry could grow in a best case ‘wind energy vision,’ but still well within the capacity of the industry as it exists today and is likely to grow in the future, assuming an unambiguous commitment to renewable energy. Under this advanced scenario, cumulative wind energy capacity could increase by nearly five times, from 800 GW in 2012 up to 4,042 GW in 2050.

(The details: It would see 800 GW by 2020, 1,933 GW by 2030, 3,024 GW by 2040 and 4,042 GW by 2050.)

Wind power has a potentially massive role to play in the elimination of fossil fuel emissions. Swapping one month’s use of fossil fuels for 100 kWhs of wind power is the equivalent of taking one car off the road for 2,400 miles or 3,862 kilometres according to How Stuff Works.

In a media release accompanying the report, Steve Sawyer, CEO of GWEC, said wind power has become the cheapest cost option when adding new capacity to electricity grids in an increasing number of markets.

Given the urgency to cut down CO2 emissions and continued reliance on imported fossil fuels, wind power’s pivotal role in the world's future energy supply is assured,” Sawyer said.

In a related Greenpeace International blog posting, Sven Teske, the organization’s senior energy expert, said that by 2020, wind power could prevent more than one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from being emitted each year by dirty energy.

That’s equivalent to Germany’s and Italy’s emissions combined, or Africa’s total CO2 emissions, or those of Japan, or two-thirds of what India pumps out,” Teske said.

The report noted that science indicates global greenhouse gas emissions need to peak in the next five years if humankind is to have any reasonable chance of avoiding the worst ravages of man-made climate change — i.e. keeping global mean temperature rise below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

The power sector is the largest single contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions – about 40 per cent of energy-related CO2 emissions, and about 25 per cent of overall greenhouse gas emissions — the report said.

Massive implementation of existing energy-efficiency and energy-saving technologies is needed in the next five to 10 years, no new coal plants should be built, and natural gas should be used wherever possible, it added.

In addition, the report predicted that while solar power may be the largest power source by mid-century, the biggest contribution to emission-reductions in the next decade will come from hydro and wind.

Image Credit: Lillgrund wind farm by Vattenfall via Flickr.