No wind up. Europe could use onshore wind capacity to smash global energy demand

No wind up. Europe could use onshore wind capacity to smash global energy demand

A study from the University of Sussex has revealed that Europe has the capacity to produce more than 100 times the amount of energy it currently produces through onshore windfarms.

Windmills on a beach in west Denmark 000066239175 Full

The importance of renewable energy is more evident than ever. The windmills are a powerful machine that can help us use nature most powerful element, wind. On the west coast of Denmark a large number of windmills are placed either on the beach or straight in the North Sea.

The new analysis from the University of Sussex and Aarhus University looked at all suitable sites for onshore wind farms and revealed that Europe has the potential to supply enough energy for the whole world until 2050. The total capacity was calculated at a staggering 52.5 TW – that is around 1 MW for every 16 European citizens.

The studies co-author, Benjamin Sovacool, Professor of Energy Policy at the University of Sussex, explained that “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.

“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.”

What is Spatial analysis?

onshore power density potential europe image

The study used spatial analysis and Geographical Information System (GIS)-based wind atlases (literal maps that contain contains data on the wind speed and wind direction in a region) to show that around 46% of Europe’s territory could be suitable for siting of onshore wind farms.

This advanced use of GIS data at a local mapping level allowed the team to have a far greater understanding of ‘exclusionary factors’, like houses, roads, restricted areas, and terrains not suitable for wind power generation. This means they could identify more than three times the onshore wind potential in Europe than previous studies have shown.

Peter Enevoldsen, assistant professor in the Center for Energy Technologies at Aarhus University, said: “Critics will no doubt argue that the naturally intermittent supply of wind makes onshore wind energy unsuitable to meet the global demand [but] 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 utilizing the different wind regions in Europe is the key to meet the demand for a 100% renewable and fully decarbonized energy system.”

In total, the study has shown that more than 11 million additional wind turbines could be theoretically installed across 5 million square kilometres of terrain. This would generate 497 EJ of power and more than adequately meet the total expected global energy demand in 2050 of 430 EJ.

What areas have the greatest potential for wind power?

The paper’s authors identified Turkey, Russia, and Norway as having the greatest potential for future wind power density.

However, large parts of Western Europe were also highlighted as good candidates for further onshore farms because of favourable wind speeds and flat areas.

Mark Jacobson, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University explained that “one of the most important findings of this study, aside from the fact that it concludes that the European onshore wind potential is larger than previously estimated, is that it facilitates the ability of countries to plan their onshore wind resource development more efficiently, thereby easing the way for commitments by these countries to move entirely to clean, renewable energy for all purposes.”

Published as How much wind power potential does europe have? Examining european wind power potential with an enhanced socio-technical atlas in Energy Policy Volume 132.

Born to Engineer Weekly

Get the latest Engineering news delivered to your inbox every Monday morning