Climate Change Mitigation Potential of Wind Energy
2.1. Energy and GHG Emissions
2.2. Pledges and Targets
2.3. Growth of Wind Energy
2.3.1. Wind Energy Industry Historical Trends
2.3.2. Near-Term Trends in Wind Energy Deployments
2.3.3. Future Wind Energy Pledges and Targets from National Governments
2.3.4. Future Wind Energy Scenarios from Non-Governmental Organization
2.4. Emission Scenarios and Related Global Temperature Increases
3.1. Wind Energy Global Climate Change Mitigation Potential
- To avoid double counting, GHG emission reductions associated with the implementation of wind energy in the IPCC scenarios are removed as in  and . This process is shown as IPCC minus wind in Figure 6. Assumptions regarding the wind energy IC under each IPCC scenario (RCP 2.6, 4.5, 6.0 and 8.5) are estimated to avoid 2.5, 2.7, 0.74 and 1.5 GtCO2e/y, respectively. The more aggressive wind energy expansion scenarios are then implemented in each RCP to generate new estimates of global CO2e emissions (Figure 6).
- To estimate avoided emissions, it is assumed that wind energy replaces electricity generation that is typified by the USA energy mix in 2013 in terms of emissions of carbon dioxide equivalent per unit of electricity produced. Thus the avoided emissions of CO2e are around 0.64 kg/kWh or 0.64 mt/TWh .
- To convert wind energy IC in GW to electricity generation in TWh, wind energy capacity factors (CF) are used. CF for onshore wind turbines is currently 34% and is expected to increase for onshore wind turbines to over 42% by 2030 and 45% by 2050. Equivalent values for wind turbines deployed offshore are currently 43%, increasing to over 45% by 2030 and to over 50% by 2050 .
- The annual rate of increase in wind energy IC in 2050 is assumed to continue over 2051–2100.
3.2. Wind Energy Impact on Regional GHG Emissions
- For dates after 2030, we compute avoided GHG emissions that would be realized if the given country/area were to enact in full their pledges (NDC) or enact those pledges plus any additional impact from the IRENA country-specific scenario projections for expansion of wind energy installed capacity and electricity generation above what is codified in the NDC. To avoid double-counting in the NDC plus IRENA calculations for the USA and China only the excess wind energy IC from IRENA (above the NDC) are included. Equally, because the IRENA region/country projections for wind energy in the EU+UK and India are slightly below those noted in the NDC the NDC+IRENA calculation is performed using the wind energy IC expansion from IRENA and not the more ambitious NDC.
- To estimate avoided emissions, it is assumed that wind energy replaces electricity generation that is typified by the USA energy mix in 2013 in terms of emissions of carbon dioxide equivalent per unit of electricity produced. Thus the avoided emissions of CO2e are ~0.64 kg/kWh or 0.64 Mt/TWh .
3.3. Uncertainties in the Modeling
- The use of capacity factors (CF) for on- and off-shore wind energy describes the efficiency of electrical power production. Actual CF are dictated by physical variables such as the wind speed probability distribution at a given location and also to the physical dimensions of installed wind turbines (such as hub height and rotor diameter that tend to increase over time ). Further, wind turbine performance can decline over time as the technology ages . CF are also determined by operational factors such as curtailment for grid management .
- Use of a fixed factor for avoided emissions of CO2e of 0.64 kg/kWh when it is likely that these vary both by region and over time .
- Using current projections and pipelines assumes that plans and targets for wind energy deployment will be realized. After 2030, uncertainty increases and by 2050 there is no available information regarding future expansion rates so it is assumed here that annual wind energy deployments continue at the level achieved in 2050.
4. Are There Barriers to Wind Energy Expansion?
4.1. The Available Wind Resource under Climate Change
- The majority of research on the causes of wind climate variability is focused on high wind resource/high deployment areas of Europe and/or North America.
- The wind energy industry works on timescales of decades relevant to current and planned wind farm lifetimes averaging close to 30 years  whereas the majority of climate change studies consider long time scales (i.e., most have considered periods at the end of the current century) where the climate change signal may be more evident.
- Variability in wind resource projections for a given region arises from the global and regional model applied, or predictors to statistical downscaling, resolution of the model, and specific climate forcing scenario. Differences in the mean future wind resource from the current manifestation appear to be of small magnitude and of similar/smaller magnitudes than current inter-annual variability.
- There may not be an overall increase or decrease in wind speeds but rather regional variations which may link to storm track changes. For example, research focused on Europe suggests that wind resources in the north may slightly increase linked to small declines in the Mediterranean. Similarly, there may be changes in the timing of the resource such as increases in winter wind speeds and small declines in summer. Results from downscaling experiments indicate some evidence for increasing resource magnitudes over northern Europe and amplification of the seasonal cycle with the higher resource in winter and lower in the summer, declines over southern Europe (including the Mediterranean). In the USA, wind resources in the southern Great Plains are projected to increase while there is some evidence of declines in the more complex terrain in the western USA .
4.3. Repowering and Recycling
4.4. Materials, Manufacturing, Legal and Workforce Needs
5. Discussion and Conclusions
- An electricity generation efficiency from onshore wind that increases from 34% to 45% by 2050 and for the offshore wind of 43% increasing to 50% by 2050.
- The wind energy-derived electricity displaces the mean current USA generation supply in terms of CO2 emission per TWh of electricity.
- The transient climate response to cumulative emissions of carbon is 0.54 °C per 1000 GtCO2.
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
|APC||Announced Pledges Case|
|bcm gas||Billion cubic meters of natural gas|
|CF||Capacity Factors. CF measures the efficiency of electricity production from wind turbines. They are the ratio of the amount of power produced normalized by the potential power produced if all wind turbines run at their rated capacity (usually annual).|
|CO2||Carbon dioxide. GtCO2 indicates Giga-tonnes (i.e., 109 tonnes) of carbon dioxide.|
|CO2e||Carbon dioxide equivalents. CO2e for gas are computed by their mass emissions by their “global warming potential” (GWP) which represents the warming impacts from that gas compared to CO2 over some time horizon.|
|EU27||27 countries that comprise the European Union (EU)|
|EU28||27 countries that comprise the European Union (EU) plus the UK|
|GDP||Gross Domestic Product|
|GW||GigaWatts (109 Watts (Joules per second))|
|GWEC||Global Wind Energy Council|
|IC||Installed Capacity. This is a measure of the total power production (in Watts or GW) that could be produced from the wind turbine fleet if all were operating at peak power production (i.e., their rated of nameplate capacity).|
|IEA||International Energy Agency|
|IEA NZE||International Energy Agency Net Zero Emissions scenario|
|IEA STEPS||International Energy Agency Stated Policies scenario|
|IPCC-RCP||Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report Representative Concentration Pathways|
|IRENA||International Renewable Energy Agency|
|LCoE||Levelized Cost of Energy|
|Mtoe||Million tonnes of oil equivalent|
|NDC||Nationally Determined Contributions|
|TPES||Total Primary Energy Supply|
|TCRE||Transient Climate Response to cumulative Emissions of carbon|
|UNFCCC||United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change|
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|TPES (Mtoe)||Electricity Consumption (TWh)||CO2 Emissions (Gt)||Population (Million)||Per Capita|
|TPES (toe per Capita)||Electricity Consumption (MWh per Capita)||CO2 Emission (tonne per Capita)|
|Pledges and Targets||Wind Energy IC 2020 (GW)||Annual Increase IC Wind Energy (GW) (%)|
|China||Reduce CO2 emissions intensity per unit of GDP by 65%, increase non-fossil fuel contribution to TPES to 25% and expand wind and solar IC >1200 GW. Plans for carbon neutrality by 2060 . Beijing declaration on wind energy, 50 GW annual added IC to 2025, increasing to 60 GW annually to 3000 GW by 2060 . Guangdong and Jiangsu Province plans >30 GW offshore IC by 2025 .||288||52 (18%)|
|US||Reduce GHG emissions by 50–52% below 2005 levels by 2030. Net-zero emissions pledge by 2050 under the Biden administration [11,13,17]. A total of 30 GW offshore wind IC by 2030 . A total of 10% of U.S. electrical demand (4128 TWh in 2019 ) by 2020, 20% in 2030, and 35% in 2050 .||122||16 (14%)|
|EU+UK||EU climate neutrality by 2050 and renewables 32% of TPES by 2030 . UK targets: GHG reduction >68% by 2030, cf 1990 levels, net zero emissions by 2050 . UK 40 GW offshore wind IC by 2030 .||219||15 (7%)|
|India||33–35% reduction in carbon emissions intensity by 2030 relative to 2005. Renewables target 175 GW by 2022 (wind 60 GW onshore; 5 GW offshore), 450 GW by 2030, including 30 GW offshore .||39||1 (3%)|
|Energy-Related CO2 Emissions (GtCO2) ||Annual Avoided Emissions from Current Wind IC (GtCO2)||Annual Avoided Emissions from Current Pledges (NDC)||Annual Avoided Emissions from NDC + IRENA Wind Scenario|
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Barthelmie, R.J.; Pryor, S.C. Climate Change Mitigation Potential of Wind Energy. Climate 2021, 9, 136. https://doi.org/10.3390/cli9090136
Barthelmie RJ, Pryor SC. Climate Change Mitigation Potential of Wind Energy. Climate. 2021; 9(9):136. https://doi.org/10.3390/cli9090136Chicago/Turabian Style
Barthelmie, Rebecca J., and Sara C. Pryor. 2021. "Climate Change Mitigation Potential of Wind Energy" Climate 9, no. 9: 136. https://doi.org/10.3390/cli9090136