Europe Could Meet Global Energy Demands With Wind Farms

Wind farm in Northern Spain. jorisvo/Shutterstock

Europe has the potential to increase energy generation 100-fold. That would be enough energy to meet global demand – and it can all be achieved through onshore wind farms, say scientists at the University of Sussex in the UK and Aarhus University in Denmark.

The development of onshore wind farms is an important process in the continent's transition to clean and renewable energy. Writing in the journal Energy Policy, researchers claim Europe has the capacity to supply the whole world's energy needs up until 2050.

The team analyzed possible sites for onshore wind farms using Geographical Information System (GIS)-based wind atlases, calculating approximately 46 percent of Europe's territory would be "suitable". The detail of the data allowed them to rule out certain areas based on various "exclusionary factors", such as houses, roads, and restricted areas as well as land that just isn't very good at generating wind electricity.

If Europe's full capacity was utilized, the researchers found it could generate 52.5 terawatts' (TW) worth of energy – or 1 megawatt (MW) for every 16 European citizens. According to the study, the potential power output would equate to 138,090 terawatt-hours (TWh). 

To put that figure into perspective, it would be enough energy to power 38 billion homes for a year, provided you base your annual energy output on that of the average European home (3,600 kWh). That of the average US or Canadian home is quite a bit higher, 12,300 kWh and 11,000 kWh respectively, according to Ovo Energy.

"The study is not a blueprint for development but a guide for policymakers indicating the potential of how much more can be done and where the prime opportunities exist," co-author Benjamin Sovacool, professor of energy policy at the University of Sussex, said in a statement.

"Our study suggests that the horizon is bright for the onshore wind sector and that European aspirations for a 100 percent renewable energy grid are within our collective grasp technologically."

The team estimates that theoretically 11 million wind turbines could be built on land deemed suitable. Combine these with those already up and running and they could generate 497 exajoules (EJ) of power, i.e. more than enough to meet global energy demands predicted for 2050 (430 EJ).

"Critics will no doubt argue that the naturally intermittent supply of wind makes onshore wind energy unsuitable to meet the global demand," said Peter Enevoldsen, assistant professor in the Center for Energy Technologies at Aarhus University – perhaps with Donald Trump in mind. 

Trump undermined wind energy earlier this year, (falsely) claiming: "When the wind stops blowing, that’s the end of your electric."

"But even without accounting for developments in wind turbine technology in the upcoming decades, onshore wind power is the cheapest mature source of renewable energy, and utilizing the different wind regions in Europe is the key to meet the demand for a 100 percent renewable and fully decarbonized energy system," Enevoldsen explained.

Indeed, according to thinktank Energy Innovation, "the US has already entered the "coal cost crossover" – aka the point at which coal becomes increasingly more expensive compared to renewable options, like solar and wind.

"Obviously, we are not saying that we should install turbines in all the identified sites but the study does show the huge wind power potential right across Europe which needs to be harnessed if we’re to avert a climate catastrophe," said Sovacool.

 

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