IEA Sees Wind Power Bouncing Back Big

As we reported just yesterday, wind power has hit a bit of a rough patch, with first-half-of-year installations down for the third year in a row. But don’t look for this trend to last very long, says the International Energy Agency.

The agency has just updated its “technology roadmap” for wind, first put out in 2009, and in the process hiked from 12 to 18 percent the target for how much of the world’s electricity wind power could generate by 2050. In the IEA’s hopeful scenario, offshore wind will drive much of the growth, with plummeting costs (down 45 percent) helping to boost offshore’s share of wind power from about 2 percent now to 6 percent in 2020 and 25 percent in 2050.

iea wind

As offshore becomes relatively cheaper, it assumes a bigger proportion of wind capacity, under the IEA scenario (image via IEA)

Mind you, that 18 percent 2050 electricity generation figure, used in the IEA headline to its press release, actually appears to be an upper bound – underlying documents [PDF] state that the roadmap “targets 15 to 18 percent share of global electricity from wind power by 2050.”

The agency goes on to say that “achieving these targets requires rapid scaling up of the current annual installed wind power capacity (including repowering), from 45 GW in 2012 to 65 GW by 2020, to 90 GW by 2030 and to 104 GW by 2050.” That could be no easy task in the near term, given that the World Wind Energy Association is saying that 2013 new capacity is likely to head in the wrong direction, down to 35.7 GW.

What gives the IEA its high hopes?

Recent improvement in wind power technologies as well as the changing global energy context explain the higher long-term target. Turbines are getting higher, stronger and lighter, while masts and blades are growing even faster than rated capacity, allowing turbines to capture lower-speed winds and produce more regular output. This facilitates installation in places beyond the best windy spots on mountain ridges or seashores as well as integration into power systems despite the variability of winds.

The possible obstacles to growth are familiar, the agency says, listing financing, grid integration issues and difficulties with permits and public acceptance. “To achieve high penetrations of variable wind power without diminishing system reliability, improvements are needed in grid infrastructure and in the flexibility of power systems as well as in the design of electricity markets,” the IEA said.

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.