IEA predicts 15-fold growth in offshore wind by 2040

Offshore wind could theoretically generate more than 18 times today’s global electricity demand – according to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA). 

The Agency’s Offshore Wind Outlook 2019 also finds that global offshore wind capacity could increase 15-fold and attract $1tn in total investment by 2040. The market’s rapid growth is being driven by falling costs, supportive policy environments and technological innovations, including larger turbines and floating foundations. 

Today, offshore wind capacity in the European Union – where the technology was pioneered – stands at almost 20 GW. This figure is set to rise to 130 GW by 2040 under current policy scenarios. But if the EU reaches its carbon-neutrality aims, offshore wind capacity would have to jump to around 180 GW by the same date – and become the bloc’s single-largest source of electricity, says the report. Moreover, if demand for clean hydrogen produced by offshore wind also grows, Europe’s offshore wind capacity could be pushed higher still. 

By 2025, China is forecast to have the largest offshore wind fleet of any country, overtaking the UK. According to the IEA, the technology is particularly attractive in China because wind farms can be constructed near the country’s major population centres in the south and east. China’s offshore wind capacity is set to rise from 4 GW today to 110 GW by 2040. Policies designed to align with global emissions targets could possibly push this figure to above 170 GW. 

Elsewhere, a significant offshore wind market could develop off the northeast coast of the US, offering a way to diversify the country’s power mix. 

Floating foundations would expand the possibilities for harnessing wind resources on the country’s west coast, where deeper waters make traditional offshore wind installations more challenging. 

‘Offshore wind currently provides just 0.3% of global power generation, but its potential is vast,’ says Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director. ‘More and more of that potential is coming within reach, but much work remains to be done by governments and industry for it to become a mainstay of clean energy transitions.’ 

Measures to incentivise investment include careful market design and ensuring low-cost financing, as well as the creation of regulations that encourage the construction of necessary onshore infrastructure. Industry must also continue to rapidly develop the technology so that turbines continue to grow in size and power capacity, the IEA adds. 

In turn, this will deliver the performance and cost reductions that will continue to make offshore wind competitive with other generating technologies, including gas-fired power. 

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