Wind Energy is Top-Dog in the EU … But Will It Last?

wind turbinesIt’s a good time for wind energy, particularly in the European Union. The EU added more new wind-energy capacity than any other form of power last year, according to a report by the European Wind Energy Association.

In the 28 EU member countries, wind accounted for 44 percent of all new power installations and connected 12.8 gigawatts to the grid, with nearly 10 GW in onshore wind and 3 GW in offshore wind. This amounted to a 6.3 percent increase in wind installations over 2014. Total wind capacity in the EU is now 142 GW and accounts for 11.4 percent of power needs.

Most of the new wind installations in 2015 occurred in Germany, with Poland the second largest wind power installer. Germany accounted for 47 percent of all new installations, and has the largest installed capacity among EU countries at 45 GW, leading in 2015 with more than 6 GW of newly-installed wind power. The report cites three factors that account for Germany’s leadership:

  • Effective policies
  • The connection of large amounts of offshore capacity that was installed in 2014 but was not grid connected
  • A desire by the industry to complete installations before Germany moves to market-based arrangements in 2017

The total installed wind power capacity in EU countries increased by 11 GW net in 2015 to 908 GW. Wind overtook hydropower as the third largest source of power generation in the EU with a 15.6 percent share of total power capacity. Wind power accounts for a third of all new power installations since 2000 in the Europe.

It wasn’t a good year for fossil fuel generated power, as conventional power sources like fuel oil and coal continued to decommission more capacity than they install. EU countries decommissioned 8 GW of coal capacity, 4.3 GW of gas and 3.3 GW of fuel oil. However, renewables installations accounted for 22.3 GW, or 77 percent, of all new installed capacity in Europe.

Wind power is no longer an alternative energy source. “Last year, Europe added more new wind capacity than coal, gas and nuclear. We no longer think of wind power as an alternative technology,” Oliver Joy, spokesperson for the European Wind Energy Association, told TriplePundit. “It is mainstream and mature – not to mention onshore wind is the cheapest form of new power generation available to us. An energy transition is underway in Europe and wind power is at its heart.”

Once considered fringe, offshore wind capacity also increased last year in Europe, accounting for 24 percent of total wind power installations, which is double its share in 2014. “This confirms the growing relevance of the offshore wind industry in the development of wind energy in the EU,” the report stated. Or, as Joy said, “It was a strong year for offshore wind, which was a key driver behind the record numbers.”

The problems facing the wind power sector

While the report reveals good news for the wind power sector, it also shows some problems, Joy pointed out. “The market is very concentrated, particularly in Germany,” he said. “Almost half of the new installations were in Europe’s largest economy. Furthermore, we expect to see a dip in wind installations in 2016. We could see a rebound for offshore wind in 2017, but the outlook for onshore in Europe is less certain.”

Those aren’t the only problems for the EU’s wind power sector. It is also facing increasing competition. China is out to deploy 200 GW worth of wind energy by 2020, and it overtook the EU this year on installed wind capacity. China is now the greatest producer of wind power in the world. Last year, China installed 30.5 GW of new wind power, out of 63 GW installed globally, and has about 145 GW of total wind power installed. The global total of installed wind power is 432 GW.

The U.S. extended the wind production tax credit to 2019. The credit is currently worth 2.3 cents  per kilowatt-hour of energy generated for the power grid, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). The tax credit is a contributing factor to wind power more than quadrupling in the U.S. since 2008, with 69.5 GW installed by the third quarter of 2015, an increase from 16.7 GW installed in the beginning of 2008.

“Europe is stuck in the middle with a patchwork of stop-start policies that have the potential to send investors elsewhere,” Joy said.  “The world is hot on Europe’s heels, and now is no time to rest on laurels.”

Clearly, it’s time for the 28 member EU countries to step it up. More wind energy installed means less fossil fuel-based power — and that means less greenhouse gas emissions. And that is great for the world and its people.

Image credit: Flickr/Petter Palander

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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