Offshore wind energy will expand dramatically over the next two decades, multiplying by 15 by 2040 to reach a minimum of 345 gigawatts (GW) of installed capacity and attracting a cumulative investment of $1 trillion, according to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Offshore Wind Outlook 2019 report, released today. The report is an excerpt from the World Energy Outlook 2019, which will be published in its entirety on November 13.
Offshore Wind Outlook 2019 offers a deep insight into a technology that today has a total capacity of 23 GW (80% of it in Europe) and represents only 0.3% of the world’s electricity generation, but which has the potential to become a pillar of the world’s energy supply. The report provides the most comprehensive analysis to date of the global outlook for offshore wind energy, its contributions to electricity systems and its role in the transition to clean energy.
The IEA explains in the study that the reduced costs of this technology, supportive government policies and some notable technological advances, such as larger turbines and floating foundations, are behind the momentum that offshore wind is gaining, for which it predicts an installed capacity of around 345 GW by 2040. But it could go much further. According to the international body, with greater support from policymakers, offshore wind could grow much stronger.
Europe, a pioneer Europe has been a pioneer in this technology and will continue to be the engine of its future development. At present, the European Union’s offshore wind capacity is almost 20 GW and under current policies, this figure will rise to almost 130 gigawatts by 2040. However, if the European Union manages to meet its carbon neutral targets, offshore wind capacity would increase even further, reaching around 180 gigawatts by 2040 and becoming the largest source of electricity in the region. An even more ambitious vision, in which policies would drive a large increase in demand for clean hydrogen produced from offshore wind turbines, could further increase Europe’s offshore wind capacity.
China also has a determining role to play in the long-term growth of offshore wind energy, particularly because of its need to reduce air pollution. The IEA explains that this technology is particularly attractive in China because offshore wind farms can be built close to major population centres in the east and south of the country. By 2025, China is likely to have the largest network of offshore wind farms in the world, surpassing the UK. The Agency forecasts that China, which now has 4 GW of offshore wind, will have 110 GW in 2040, although the figure could exceed 170 GW with government policies being designed.
The United States has good offshore wind resources in the northeast of the country and close to demand centres along the densely populated east coast, offering offshore wind a way to help diversify the country’s energy mix, according to the IEA. Floating wind farms would expand the possibilities of harnessing the wind resources of the west coast, according to the report.
The director of the Agency, Fathi Birol, who presented the report in Copenhagen (the cradle of offshore wind) together with the Danish Minister of Climate, Energy and Public Services, Dan Jørgensen, has stressed that the great promise of offshore wind energy is underlined precisely by the development of floating turbines that could be deployed further offshore. In theory, these facilities could allow offshore wind to meet the entire electricity demand of several key electricity markets several times over, including Europe, the United States and Japan.
Barriers to overcome
“Offshore wind energy currently provides only 0.3% of global energy production, but its potential is enormous,” Birol said, adding that while that potential is within our reach, “there is still much work to be done by governments and industry to make it a pillar of clean energy transitions.
In this regard, the report stresses that governments and regulators can lead the way by providing a long-term vision that encourages industry and investors to make the major investments needed to develop offshore wind projects and link them to onshore energy networks. This includes careful market design, ensuring attractive financing and regulations that recognise that the development of onshore grid infrastructure is essential for the efficient integration of offshore wind energy production.
The industry, for its part, needs to continue its rapid technological development so that wind turbines continue to grow in size and power, which in turn provides greater performance and cost reduction, making offshore wind energy increasingly competitive.
In addition, according to the report, there are huge opportunities for collaboration between oil and gas companies and offshore wind. It is estimated that 40% of the lifetime costs of a offshore wind project, including construction and maintenance, have significant synergies with these two sectors, which translates into a market opportunity of $400 billion or more in Europe and China over the next two decades, according to the IEA.
30% annual growth between 2010 and 2018
The global offshore wind market grew by almost 30% per year between 2010 and 2018, benefiting from rapid technological improvements. Over the next five years, around 150 new offshore wind projects are expected to be completed worldwide, confirming the growing role of this technology in energy supply. The UK and Germany currently have the largest capacity in operation, while Denmark produced 15% of its electricity from this technology in 2018, although the country that added the most power last year was China.
The report concludes that offshore wind, whose costs will continue to fall, will be competitive with fossil fuels in the next decade, as well as with other renewable energies, including solar photovoltaics. The leveled cost of electricity produced by offshore wind is expected to fall by almost 60% by 2040.
To carry out the study, the IEA has relied on geospatial data to assess the technical potential of offshore wind energy country by country and on global meteorological data on wind speed and quality, taking into account the latest turbine designs. The results are that the technical potential of offshore wind energy is 36 000 TWh per year for installations in waters less than 60 metres deep and less than 60 km from the coast. World electricity demand is currently 23 000 TWh. By moving further away from the coast and into deeper waters, floating turbines could multiply the generation potential with this technology by 11 times by 2040.