Europe ‘could increase onshore wind capacity by 100 times’

A new report, by researchers from the University of Sussex in the UK and Aarhus University in Denmark, suggests that Europe has the capacity to produce enough energy for the whole world until 2050 from onshore wind farms.

The study reveals that if all of Europe’s capacity for onshore wind farms was realised, it could produce 100 times more than the amount currently generated from onshore wind farms. The installed nameplate capacity would be 52 TW – equivalent to 1 MW for every 16 European citizens.

The research team conducted digital spatial analysis of Europe to conclude that 46% of the continent’s landmass – totalling nearly 5mn km2 – would be suitable, theoretically, for new wind turbines. Over 11mn turbines would need to be built over this area to achieve the maximum capacity.

Land was excluded from the available total on the basis of several factors, such as use for housing and roads; land restrictions due to military or political reasons; and unsuitable terrain not suitable for wind power generation. The higher level of detail facilitated through the use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) allowed them to identify more than three times the onshore wind potential in Europe than previous studies. 

Co-author Benjamin Sovacool, Professor of Energy Policy at the University of Sussex, said: ‘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. Our study suggests that the horizon is bright for the onshore wind sector and that European aspirations for a 100% renewable energy grid are within our collective grasp technologically.’

He continued: ‘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.’

Peter Enevoldsen, Assistant Professor in the Center for Energy Technologies at Aarhus University, added: ‘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 utilising the different wind regions in Europe is the key to meet the demand for a 100% renewable and fully decarbonised energy system.’

According to the IEA, onshore wind-generated electricity increased by an estimated 12% in 2018, remaining the largest non-hydro renewable technology and generating more than all the others combined.

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