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Where does wind power make sense
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Where does wind power make sense

Sprawling landscape of a lignite mine, with machinery in the middle and wind turbines in the background


What is the cost of wind power? 

Modern wind turbines are more efficient and generate up to 20 times more electricity than they did 25 years ago. They are larger, taller and have longer blades. According to Lazard investment bank, wind power generated from new plants today costs 72% less than in 2009.  

This makes it one of our most cost-effective energy sources.

Sprawling landscape of a lignite mine, with machinery in the middle and wind turbines in the background

Germany, for example, is struggling to shift from fossil fuels towards cleaner energy sources.

Electricity from windy regions on the coast now costs €0.04-0.05 ($0.05-0.06) per kilowatt hour (kWh), while in places with weaker wind it is €0.06-0.08, according to a study by the German-based research organization Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems. For offshore plants in the sea, a kilowatt hour costs about €0.1 because they cost more to install and maintain. 

By comparison, the price of photovoltaics have also fallen sharply — around 90% since 2009 — bringing electricity from a solar farm down to €0.02-0.06/kWh. However, new power plants for alternative energy sources cost more. A kilowatt hour of electricity from fossil gas costs around €0.11 cents, coal-fired electricity €0.16 and nuclear electricity €0.14-0.19. 

According to energy researchers, wind and solar power will be 20-50% more affordable by 2030 as the technology advances.

Infografik Kosten Stromproduktion EN

What amount of wind power is needed to achieve climate neutrality? 

Experts believe that wind and solar energy will cover over 95% of the global energy demand in future. Depending on where you live, there are different combinations that make sense. Christian Breyer from LUT University, Finland, said that these could include hydropower, batteries and electrolyzers to produce hydrogen and synthetic fuels as well as other storage or conversion technologies.

In a study published by his team in Energy, 76% of global energy demand could be met with solar power while 20% would require wind power. However, wind power is much more prevalent in regions that receive little sunlight. This includes the northern part of Russia (more than 90%), the middle-west of the US (81%), and the northern part of China (about 72%). It also affects countries in central and northern Europe, such as France, Poland, Great Britain, and the Netherlands. Germany would have 31% wind energy to meet all its energy needs.  

Wind is often the less expensive option in these regions where the sun shines less strongly and the winters can be gray. Breyer stated that wind power is a central pillar in Europe’s energy supply. “If there aren’t many sunny days in Europe, then we have usually very good windy day, so that all goes well.”   

Infografik Klimaneutralität durch Windkraft 2050 EN

Which wind technology is the best?

Wind turbines are now up to 180m high with blades up to 80 meters. On land, just one such turbine has an output of up to 7200 kilowatts and can generate as much as 29 million kWh of electricity per year — enough to cover the private electricity needs of 16,000 people in Germany and 140,000 people in India. 

Wind turbines work best in areas where the wind blows more forcefully and is more reliable. Offshore turbines can produce up to 10,000 kilowatts and will likely reach 15,000 in just a few years. A single turbine located in a favorable location could provide electricity for approximately 40,000 Germans and 370,000 Indians.  

The cost of running power cables to the seabed and maintaining offshore farms is twice the price of electricity generated from land turbines due to the complexity and high costs involved. However, offshore wind farms located in densely populated areas of the world may be able to play a valuable role in a climate neutral energy supply. 

Around 7% of world electricity demand can be met now by wind power. In 2020, 743GW of new turbines were installed with a combined capacity of 93 gigawatts. Offshore turbines account to 34GW. The majority are located in the UK (10GW), China (8GW), and Germany (8GW). The London Array, located off the Thames Estuary, is one of the first large-scale offshore wind farms. Built in 2013, it has a capacity of 0.6GW from 175 turbines, and cost the equivalent of €2.5 billion. It supplies electricity to private households of 1.7 million Britons.

Offshore wind park in Denmark

Maintaining offshore wind farms is more expensive.

Are floating wind turbines possible to help?

The offshore wind farm has been operating in shallow waters, with water depths of up to 50m. The foundation for the turbines is built into the seabed. However, many of the world’s coastline waters are deeper than that which makes foundation-based wind farms uneconomical. 

Floating turbines are also now mounted on pontoons from harbors. They then pull into the water and attach to the seabed with chains. The first floating turbines in the world were installed off Scotland’s coast in 2017. Later, they were found off the coasts Portugals, France, and Japan. All of these turbines have a combined capacity of 0.1GW. Global Offshore Wind Research projects that there will be an installed capacity of 6.3GW before 2030.

Onshore wind farms will see the greatest growth. According to the LUT study, for a climate-neutral energy supply — which includes not only energy for electricity but also for transport, heating and industry — the globally installed wind power capacity would have to increase tenfold to around 8039GW and quadruple to 244GW in Germany.

offshore windmill park with clouds and a blue sky, windmill park in the ocean drone aerial view with wind turbine Flevoland Netherlands Ijsselmeer

Leaders around the world will need to build more renewable power quickly to reach their climate goals.

Wind power can be used to produce e-fuels

Wind power is very affordable in windy places. If the electricity needs to be transported hundreds of kilometers away, the cost could rise and even cause the buyer to pay twice as much. It’s often unwise to transport electricity long distances. 

Even so, it can be possible to generate electricity in remote areas if it is used for the production of e-fuels. These synthetic fuels are intended to replace petroleum products like petrol, diesel, and paraffin in the future as well as special basic materials that will be used for the chemical industry. 

They are created by electrolysis using electricity, water, and CO2 from air. These fuels can then travel in tanksers, pipelines and trains. The south of Chile is currently home to the first commercial production facility. 

Companies like Porsche, a carmaker, and Siemens Energy are working together to harness the power of the wind to produce cheap electricity for e-fuels. They expect to reach 550 million liters annually by 2026.

Breyer said, “With the Patagonia project, you can now see what the global standard is going to be.” “In ten year, there will be dozens of these projects a year,” Breyer said.  

Translated by Ajit Nyanajan from German


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