As wind turbine technology becomes increasingly sophisticated, businesses and investors are being wooed by the prospect of cheap, stable electricity
Global wind energy production reached 500GW of installed wind turbines in 2017. The growth curve has been steep, rising from under 24GW in 2001, and passing 250GW some time in 2010. It is expected to continue this upward trajectory.
Major wind turbine manufacturers include Denmark’s Vestas – with annual sales of more than €10 billion – Germany’s Siemens, Spain’s Gamesa, GE from the US, and China’s Goldwind.
The biggest wind turbine so far is the 9.5MW MHI Vestas offshore model, 32 of which are spinning off the coast of Merseyside. Their blades are 80 metres long – the length of nine buses.
Hywind, the first floating wind farm, started generating this year 15 miles off Scotland in the North Sea. It cost almost double the price of a fixed offshore project to build, but owner Statoil says energy costs should fall to €40-€60/MWh – as low as onshore wind – by 2030.
A growing number of onshore wind projects generate the lowest cost electricity, even without government subsidies. Offshore costs have fallen to lower than the 2020 target of €100/MWh for some UK projects.
By the end of 2016, 1,155,000 jobs had been created by the wind industry, according to the Global Wind Energy Council.
Denmark is the spiritual home of wind energy, and still has one of the highest proportions of electricity generated by wind power – 42% in 2015. On 22 February 2017, it produced 97GW/hours of wind power, enough to meet all its electricity needs, or power 10 million homes.
Top power capacity
Despite still building coal plants and being the largest carbon pollutor, China – the country with the largest population – is also the country with the greatest wind power capacity, credited with over 161GW, according to Windpowermonthly.com.
What they say
“Frankly, one of the reasons why we do this is because it makes business sense from a cost perspective.”
Gary Demasi, Google’s director for datacentre energy and location strategy, on its purchase of wind and solar projects
“Globally, more than 100 top companies have now committed to procure 100% renewable electricity… yet in Europe, only a limited number of large corporates are involved in renewables sourcing.”
WindEurope, at launch of Re-Source, a renewable energy platform to connect renewable energy buyers and sellers
“Contrary to media exaggerations, the low Contract for Difference prices [for UK offshore wind farms] are commercial speculation, not the dawn of a new age for offshore wind and renewables.”
Offshore wind strike prices report, published on behalf of Global Warming Policy Foundation, re UK offshore wind auction prices
The appetite for wind continues to grow as part of a renewables mix of energy production, with corporate buyers playing a larger role in the market, as they seek low, stable electricity prices and a low carbon footprint. While there is some concern that recent UK offshore auction prices are too low to be realistic, economies of scale, new technology and innovation through the supply chains are expected to continue to reduce costs involved. Wind is predicted to become the main source of energy in Europe in the 2030s, but will lose out to solar on cost.