2009 a good year for wind power
European wind power experienced an amazingly robust ride in 2009 even though the year began with an ongoing global recession and ended with continued inertia caused by political leaders failing to reach an effective agreement on limiting climate change.
Indeed, there is only one conclusion to be reached following a quick review of press releases issued by the European Wind Energy Association in 2009: wind power was, and is, a force of good in an increasingly complex and diverse world whipsawed by economic, energy and environmental problems.
As a result of being local, affordable, sustainable, dependable and rapidly deployable, wind power’s reputation continued to grow among policy makers and entrepreneurs alike as a smart investment in our collective future. Further enhancing wind power’s popularity — especially during recessionary times — was the quickly escalating number of good-paying jobs associated with the demand for wind turbines. The fact that wind power is already a key solution to fighting global warming only served to highlight the industry’s many benefits.
Acting as a tonic to a beleaguered global economy mired in financial turmoil, the ability of wind power to deliver much-needed new jobs was emphasized early in 2009 when the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) released a new report called Wind at Work – wind energy and job creation in the EU. The report showed the European wind energy sector created 33 new jobs every day for the past five years. That meant wind energy jobs were on target to more than double from 154,000 to 325,000 by 2020.
In February, statistics released by EWEA showed that in 2008 more wind power — 8,454 MW — was installed in the EU than any other electricity generating technology. The new total of 65 GW of wind power in Europe would, in a normal wind year, produce 142 TWh of electricity, equal to about 4.2% of the EU’s electricity demand.
A month later, Andris Piebalgs, EU Energy Commissioner, told the European Wind Energy Conference and Exhibition that wind power can replace a large proportion of the polluting and finite fuels that the 27-member trading bloc currently relies on. A new report launched at the same conference revealed that EWEA had increased its 2020 target for installed wind energy capacity in the EU from 180 GW to 230 GW, including 40 GW offshore.
Wind power got another boost in June when the European Environment Agency came out with a new study indicating wind power’s potential in 2020 as three times greater than Europe’s expected electricity demand, rising to a factor of seven by 2030.
Later in June, the increasing popularity of wind power became apparent when tens of thousands of people from around Europe and the rest of the world joined in celebrating the first ever Global Wind Day, which saw over 200 events and activities organised in 35 different countries.
The fledgling and potentially massive offshore wind sector also received additional interest in September when EWEA presented to governments and EU officials a 20-year plan for the development of European offshore wind power. The proposal, launched at the European Offshore Wind Conference, provided a comprehensive approach to constructing a transnational offshore power grid. Building on the 11 grids already in place and the 21 being studied by grid operators in the North and Baltic Seas, EWEA proposed eight additional offshore grids by 2020 and six more by 2030. Also revealed at the conference were new research findings showing that existing and planned European offshore wind projects would, if implemented, supply 10% of Europe's electricity while avoiding over 200 million tonnes of CO₂ emissions every year.
Offshore wind — also referred to as Europe’s largest untapped energy source — was back in the news in early December when the European Commission, as part of its European Economic Recovery Plan, approved a €565 million investment in nine offshore wind energy projects and infrastructure.
Two significant political events — one pan-European and one global — that will have ongoing repercussions for wind power occurred during the year.
In October, Ireland became the last of EU Member States to democratically approve the Lisbon Treaty, thereby improving Europe’s ability to deal with global problems of an increasingly complex nature such as the ongoing economic crisis, energy security for a growing population and destructive climate change caused by burning fossil fuels. The Lisbon Treaty gives the EU, for the first time, clear competence for energy, and states that “Union policy on energy” shall ensure the functioning of the energy market.
In December, following nearly two weeks of contentious negotiations at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen, five of the more than 190 nations in attendance brokered a non-binding political accord that was sharply criticised for being ineffectual, vague and disappointing. The only somewhat positive elements about the accord reached by the US, Brazil, South Africa, China and India was an agreement that temperature increase would be kept below 2 degrees Celsius — a level many scientists say is somewhat manageable — and a promise to raise from a variety of sources $100 billion annually by 2020 to help poor, developing nations deal with climate change. Frustratingly, the accord, which was expected to eventually be endorsed by most of the remaining countries, had no plan for reducing lethal greenhouse gas emissions caused by the continued use of dirty fossil fuels. Instead of certainty, it provided more uncertainty and set in motion another round of laborious negotiations.
Because it is such a success story, wind power will clearly continue playing a positive strategic role in the aftermath of both the Lisbon Treaty and the dismal accord reached in Copenhagen. Europe already repeatedly embraces wind energy as a key solution to climate change mitigation and energy security. Eventually a proper legally binding international agreement that dramatically reduces global greenhouse gasses and paves the way for a further expansion of emissions-free wind power and other renewables will have to signed if humankind is to avoid catastrophic consequences from unchecked global warming.
Much more happened over the past year, of course, but revisiting just a few highlights is proof enough that wind power is definitely in its ascendency. As the recession wanes and 2009 draws to a close, the onwards and upwards trajectory of wind power in Europe seems, for good reasons, unstoppable.
By Chris Rose, EWEA