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Irina Slav

Irina Slav

Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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Onshore Wind Could Solve All of Europe’s Energy Problems

Europe has been at the forefront of the renewable drive aimed at reducing the rise in average global temperatures to less than 2 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. Lately, renewable additions have stalled, but now a new study could spur a reversal of this trend and motivate more spending in one particular segment: onshore wind.

A team of German researchers recently published a paper saying Europe has the potential to generate ten times the amount of energy it needs, all from onshore wind. The team did this by analyzing data about the available land, wind speeds across the continent but also, unlike previous studies on the topic, the design of future wind turbines. According to the researchers, the design that will become standard for wind mills in the coming years will be instrumental for Europe potentially reaching its onshore wind power generation capacity of the stunning 13.4 terrawatts.

According to Carbon Brief, which published an article on the study, the researchers estimate actual production from this capacity would be 34.3 pettawatt-hours annually. That’s 13 PWh higher than the next highest output estimate and ten times the amount of electricity Europe consumes, according to BP. However, it’s worth noting the impressive numbers are only estimates at this point.

While last year Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimated that globally, solar and onshore wind have become a cheaper source of energy than alternatives—on a levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) basis—new solar and wind additions in Europe and elsewhere have stalled. Wind power capacity additions in 2018 inched up to 50 GW last year, from 48 GW in 2017. That’s a negligible increase for an energy source with so much apparent potential. The problem appears to be government support, namely subsidies. Related: Iran Threatens Seizure Of UK Oil Tankers After Gibraltar Tanker Boarding

BNEF last November reported that the global average LCOE for onshore wind was $52/MWh, down by 6 percent from the first half of the year, thanks to cheaper turbines and a stronger U.S. dollar. In some places, namely India and Texas, unsubsidized onshore wind cost was just $27/MWh. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case in Europe due to political constraints and public opposition to more onshore wind farms.

In the UK, as Carbon Brief notes, onshore wind has pretty much been dormant since 2015 when the government removed subsidies for the segment. Last month, Poland and Hungary essentially blocked an attempt by the EU to score more points as a champion of green energy by refusing to sign up for a pledge to go carbon-neutral by 2050. Instead, Poland insisted the different EU members should be allowed to move at their own pace with their energy transition, with Polish President Mateusz Morawieski notably saying "We don't want a situation in which caring for the world's climate will happen at the expense of the Polish economy."

Add to this public opposition to more wind turbines in some parts of Europe as well as other obstacles, including the need to transform the grid along with the energy mix, the lack of energy storage capacity, and some flaws in wind power itself, namely the inability of mills to operate in too low temperatures, and the potential aspect of the German researchers’ study becomes all the more obvious.

With the determination demonstrated by EU officials and national governments, chances are that Europe will continue working to change its energy mix sooner rather than later. It only remains to be seen how successful it would be in these efforts.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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