Europe’s wind potential almost 20 times energy demand in 2020 – report

The report, Europe’s Onshore and Offshore Wind Energy Potential – An Assessment of Environmental and Economic Constraints, looks at the raw wind resource potential, environmental and social constraints (such as noise, visual impact and bird and bat deaths), and the future cost of wind energy production.

According to the EEA, “this study confirms that wind energy can play a major role in achieving the European renewable energy targets.”

Wind turbine technology projections suggest that the wind energy potential may be equivalent to almost 20 times energy demand in 2020, with the biggest onshore wind potentials in North-Western Europe and the greatest offshore wind potential in the North Sea, Baltic Sea and the Atlantic Ocean with some potential in the Mediterranean and Black Sea.

For onshore wind energy, environmental constraints were found to have little impact on potential. “However, social constraints, particularly concerns regarding the visual impact of wind farms, may further limit the onshore wind energy development,” the EEA report found.

Offshore wind, was found to be limited by both environmental and social constraints: “Using only 4% of the offshore area within 10 km from the coast and accounting for the restrictions imposed by shipping lane, gas and oil platforms, military areas, Natura 2000 areas etc, reduces the potential by more than 90% to 2800 TWh in 2020 and 3500 TWh in 2030.”

Looking at the criteria of being economically competitive, the EEA found that wind energy still amounts to more than three times the projected European energy demand in 2020. “However, high penetration levels of wind power will require major changes to the grid system i.e. at higher penetration levels additional extensions or upgrades both for the transmission and the distribution grid might be required to avoid congestion of the existing grid.” The report does not take issues such as load balancing, interconnection, etc into consideration for this scenario.

The EEA urges policy makers to focus on facilitating integration of wind energy into the energy system and to look at how to match demand with fluctuations in supply.

Finally, the report found that production costs depend on fossil fuel and carbon prices. The EEA also warns that its report uses conservative estimates and that the economically competitive wind potential could be higher.

Christian Kjaer, Chief Executive Officer of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), comments: "The EEA clearly recognises that wind power will be key to Europe's energy future. Now that oil prices are again on the rise, the EEA report sends a reminder to Europe's policy makers that wind power is a clean and proven energy technology and Europe is the world leader."

The EWEA says the EEA report confirms that the EWEA's 230 GW target for 2020 is eminently achievable. This would produce approximately 600 TWh per year in the EU by 2020 and meet between 14 and 18% of EU electricity demand (depending on total demand in 2020).