A worldwide perspective of renewable energy from wind

A recent report from Navigant Research which analyses the trends in the worldwide energy sector predicts that renewable energy from wind will grow significantly until at least 2018. The reasons for this include positive government policies, record levels of investment, more reliable technology and a better understanding of wind and how it generates electricity.  All of this adds up to major increase in worldwide wind energy capacity.

The report expects 7.3% of worldwide electrical power to be generated by wind by 2018, double its current capacity. New projects are being developed constantly and as they are energised the amount of clean electricity they supply to their respective grids will also continue to increase. Also as the technology gets more reliable and more efficient they will produce more electricity whilst also reducing costs which in turn will attract more investment.

The strongest area of growth within the wind sector is offshore. In 2013 the worldwide offshore wind sector grew by 50% with much of this occurring within Europe. Many European countries have large coastlines meaning they control expansive areas of open water which can be utilised for this type of development.  These offshore projects show excellent potential as they can harness the strong wind currents found at sea. Due to these factors investment in this area is continuing to grow as investors look to tap in to this potential.

For example it was recently announced that construction will shortly begin on one of the largest offshore wind farms in the world in the Moray Firth north of Inverness, Scotland. It is the first of two planned for the region which in total will number more than 250 turbines. Combined both projects will generate 5 GW of electricity, enough to power a million homes. When completed, it will be the third largest in the world after the planned South Korea Electric Power scheme off the south-west coast of the Korean peninsula, and the Blekinge project in the Baltic Sea off Sweden.

Wind energy is also growing at a remarkable rate in China. This is due to government adopting a positive strategy when it comes to renewable energy. For example in 2013 16 GW of new wind generation capacity was added to the countries energy infrastructure. Years of significant carbon emissions had led to high levels of air pollutions, especially in the highly industrialised cities which in turn has led the policy makers to look to sources of renewable energy to help reduce this.

There is an ongoing debate however about the ability of clean renewable energy and particularly that of wind to be able to compete with nuclear energy when it comes to reducing worldwide carbon emissions. Globally nuclear capacity has reduced dramatically in recent years and this trend looks set to continue with Germany decommissioning all of it nuclear power stations and France, once the flagship for nuclear power, reducing their capacity by a third over the next few years.

So in reality nuclear capacity is reducing while wind capacity increases. No matter where you stand on the debate of carbon emission reduction that is a point that cannot be argued with.

However to look at both side by side we return to China as it can be a true test for how they match up against each other. For starters it has huge gap between generation and demand. It is developing both wind and nuclear projects at a rapid rate and has bypassed much of the regulations for nuclear projects which exist elsewhere.

Yet in four years it has developed significantly less nuclear capacity than it has in one year for wind capacity. As mentioned above in 2013 16 GW of new wind capacity was installed in China. From 2010 to 2014 4.7 GW of nuclear capacity was developed. Given that wind turbines run at an average efficiency of between 40 and 50% and nuclear power stations 91%, we now have like for like statistics for these types of energy generation.

It works out at approximately 6.5 GW of real capacity for wind in one year against 4.3 GW of real capacity for nuclear in four years. That’s about six time more wind capacity than nuclear per year in one of the most pro-nuclear countries there is.  There is no reason to think that this will change significantly in the future as China is below its own projections for nuclear generation and show no signs on markedly increasing this as it continues to struggle with the realities of getting nuclear to work.

As the reduction in carbon emissions from both types of technology are equivalent to each other the one with the higher generation capacity will reduce this further and in recent years wind is clearly ahead.

From a worldwide perspective the future of wind energy is positive. New technology, high levels of investment, pro-active governments, and better science are all contributing towards an increase in capacity and generation at a time when new clean energy sources are required. It has also been shown it can compete with nuclear when it comes to worldwide carbon reduction. With the resources we have here in the UK it wouldn’t be right to scale back our own successful wind industry for political reasons. We have an opportunity to continue to lead the way rather than getting left behind as the rest of the world continues to move forward.


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