Wind energy is Europe’s most developed and deployed renewable energy. By 2020, 34% of the EU’s power needs should be met by renewables, and 14-16% of that by wind power alone. Today wind power meets around 7% of the EU electricity demand, halfway to the 2020 target.
Wind energy technology has come a long way since its modern form was released onto the commercial market in the 1980s. Back then the average power rating of a single turbine was measured in kilowatts, while today it is around 2-3 megawatts.
But, more can be done to improve wind energy technology and research has shown that turbines with power ratings of 10-20 MW are possible. And it’s not just about increasing the power rating; today’s turbines can be made more efficient and more reliable through R&D. Furthermore, turbines adapted to different terrains and extreme climatic conditions could be developed, floating structures for offshore wind power could come to the fore and mass manufacturing processes for offshore structures and large-scale turbines could be put in place.
Improvements made through R&D will also pave the way to a reduction in costs – today, in the best sites, onshore wind power is competitive with new coal and new gas – and is expected to be fully cost competitive in 2020. But offshore wind is still more expensive because working at sea adds costs, the sector is about 15 years younger than its onshore counterpart, and there is still much room for economies of scale. However, the industry expects to reach full competitiveness before 2030.
The 14-16% predicted level of wind power is one that the SET-Plan will be instrumental to achieving. The SET-Plan, through the European Wind Initiative, focusses EU, national and private research funds on the priorities identified by the sector, such as increasing wind turbine efficiency and reliability, bringing down the cost of wind energy, improving grid integration of wind power and reducing non-technological barriers to its development.
By 2020, with a concerted R&D effort, wind energy could meet up to 16% of the EU’s electricity demand, saving 342 million tonnes of CO2 – the equivalent to around three-quarters of today’s EU car emissions and up to one third of the EU’s 20% carbon reduction effort for 2020. It could greatly enhance the continent’s energy security by cutting dependency on imported fossil fuels, and stimulate green growth and at least 520,000 jobs.