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Wind Electricity

Technology deep dive
More efforts needed
Shutterstock 1272735874

About this report

In 2021 wind electricity generation increased by a record 273 TWh (up 17%). This was 55% higher growth than that achieved in 2020 and was the highest among all renewable power technologies. Such rapid development was possible thanks to an unprecedented increase in wind capacity additions, which reached 113 GW in 2020, compared with just 59 GW in 2019. However, to get on track with the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario, which has approximately 7 900 TWh of wind electricity generation in 2030, it is necessary to raise average annual capacity additions to almost 250 GW, more than double 2020’s record growth. Much greater efforts are needed to achieve this level of sustained capacity growth, with the most important areas for improvement being facilitating permitting for onshore wind and cost reductions for offshore wind. 

Energy

The amount of electricity generated by wind increased by almost 273 TWh in 2021 (up 17%), 45% higher growth than that achieved in 2020 and the largest of all power generation technologies. Wind remains the leading non-hydro renewable technology, generating 1 870 TWh in 2021, almost as much as all the others combined.  

Wind power generation in the Net Zero Scenario, 2010-2030

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China was responsible for almost 70% of wind generation growth in 2021, followed by the United States at 14% and Brazil at 7%. The European Union, despite near-record capacity growth in 2020 and 2021, saw wind power generation fall by 3% in 2021 due to unusually long periods of low wind conditions. Globally, record generation growth was possible thanks to a 90% increase in capacity growth in 2020, which reached 113 GW, driven by policy deadlines in China and the United States. In 2021 however, wind additions decreased by one-third in China and by a quarter in the United States, partially offset by faster growth in other parts of the world, resulting in overall capacity growth reaching 94 GW. 

Aligning with the Net Zero Scenario’s wind power generation level of about 7 900 TWh in 2030 calls for average expansion of approximately 18% per year during 2022-2030. After the exceptionally high capacity additions of 2020-2021, the deployment is expected to stabilize in the coming years, highlighting the need for strong efforts to get on the Net Zero Scenario trajectory.

Technology deployment

In 2021, of the total 830 GW of wind capacity installed, 93% were onshore systems, with the remaining 7% offshore wind farms. Onshore wind is a developed technology, present in 115 countries around the world, while offshore wind is at the early stage of expansion, with capacity present in just 19 countries. However, offshore reach is expected to increase in the coming years as more countries are developing or planning to develop their first offshore wind farms.  

Wind power capacity in the Net Zero Scenario, 2010-2030

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About 22% of total wind capacity growth of 94 GW was delivered by offshore technology in 2021, the highest in history and three times the average of the previous five years. Such a high share resulted from a combination of record offshore capacity additions in China, which was responsible for 80% of offshore growth, and a slowdown in global onshore growth. While the rate of onshore wind capacity additions is expected to remain stable in the coming years, offshore systems are set to further accelerate in their existing markets, such as the European Union and China, as well as enter new countries such as the United States, Chinese Taipei and Japan.  

Reaching annual wind electricity generation of about 8 000 TWh in 2030, as foreseen under the Net Zero Scenario, will require increased support for both onshore and offshore farms. Efforts should be focused on facilitating permitting, supporting the identification of suitable sites, decreasing costs and reducing project development timelines.    

Innovation

In the case of onshore wind, innovation is focused on increasing the technology’s productivity, especially in areas with low wind conditions by developing turbines with longer blades and higher towers. However, the maximum height of onshore wind turbines is often restricted in certain regions for environmental and public acceptance reasons, which limits the scope of possible innovation.  

In the offshore wind segment, in contrast, there is no such turbine size restriction; innovation is therefore focused on designing larger turbines, which allow reductions in the overall cost of power generation. In parallel, the development of cost-competitive and safe floating offshore wind turbines is accelerating. Floating wind farms could unblock the vast potential of ocean areas with a water depth too great for fixed turbines and they could be a vital energy transition tool for countries such as Japan, Korea, Portugal, France and the west coast of the United States. 

Policy

Policy support remains the principal driver of wind deployment in the majority of the world. Various types of policy are driving capacity growth, including auctions, feed-in tariffs, contracts for difference and renewable energy portfolio standards. The following important policy changes and targets affecting the growth of wind energy have been implemented in 2021-2022: 

  • China published its 14th Five-Year Plan in June 2022, which includes an ambitious target of 33% of electricity generation to come from renewables by 2025 (up from about 29% in 2021), including an 18% target for wind and solar technologies. 
  • In August 2022 the federal government of the United States introduced the Inflation Reduction Act, a law significantly expanding support for renewable energy in the next 10 years through tax credits and other measures. 
  • In July 2021 the European Commission proposed to increase the bloc’s renewable energy target for 2030 from 32% to 40%. The proposed target was further increased to 45% in May 2022. Many European countries have already expanded their renewables support mechanisms in order to accelerate capacity growth with a view to 2030 targets and in response to the energy crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  
  • During COP26, held in November 2021 in Glasgow, India announced new 2030 targets of 500 GW of total non-fossil capacity and a 50% renewable electricity generation share (more than double the 22% share in 2020), as well as net zero emissions by 2070.  
International collaboration

Beyond global renewable energy initiatives that include wind, there are numerous international organisations, collaboration programmes, groups and initiatives aimed at accelerating wind power growth around the world, including:  

  • The IEA Wind Energy Systems Technology Collaboration Programme, which provides an information platform for participating governments and industry leaders on co-operative R&D efforts to reduce the cost of wind energy technologies, increase transmission and power system flexibility, and raise social acceptance of wind energy projects.  


Private-sector strategies

The main activity of the private sector in wind power deployment is entering into corporate power purchase agreements (PPAs) – signing direct contracts with wind power plant operators for the purchase of generated electricity. In 2020 wind farms were responsible for 25% of all renewable capacity contracted in PPAs.  

Recommendations for policy makers

Lengthy and complicated permitting processes are one of the main challenges to faster deployment of wind power plants in many parts of the world, especially in Europe. Establishing administrative one-stop shops, developing clear rules and pathways for developers applying for a construction permit, determining strict timeframes for application processing, and public-sector engagement in the identification of land and sea sites for investment could significantly accelerate capacity growth. 

The richest offshore wind resource is located in deep waters, where attaching turbines to the seabed is not practical. Floating offshore foundations offer the potential for less foundation material, simplified installation and decommissioning, and additional wind resource at water depths exceeding 50 m to 60 m. Floating foundations may also be attractive for mid-depth projects where onshore and near-shore potential has been exhausted or where the possibility of using standardised floating foundation designs could avoid the need for heavy-lifting vessels to transport foundations. 

Wind power generation creates well-known challenges for electricity grids and power systems through its variability and uncertainty and distributed nature. Wind power plants in many cases already contribute to their own integration through a range of upgrades, but this contribution will need to be ramped up to align with the Net Zero Scenario through a combination of updated regulation and grid codes, and more innovative solutions for providing ancillary services and other services related to dispatchability. 

Wind farm planning, both onshore and offshore, will require enhanced sensitivity assessment of the surrounding environment to ensure long-term turbine efficiency and attractive returns on investment. Public involvement in the identification of suitable sites for investment and the creation of clear maritime development plans could significantly accelerate the project development process and lead to faster capacity growth. 

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