Energy Forecast for the 2020s Part 2: Wind

Renewable energy adoption rates are primed to surge as the new decade unfolds, with wind and solar making unprecedented progress across much of the world.

While a global energy transition away from hydrocarbons and towards renewables and other clean energy sources has been discussed and promised for a long time, current market conditions and the overall political atmosphere of early 2020 are quickly turning this long-held dream into a more tangible prospect. In part 2 of this two-part series, we look at the emerging trends that are making wind energy production such an exciting element in the rapidly changing global energy mix.

Costs come down – adoption goes up

While this premise is no surprise in of itself, what is eye-opening at this early stage of the decade is the sheer speed with which costs associated with wind energy production are falling, and how quickly producers are leveraging this to galvanise the delivery of new wind projects.

As we reported in Part 1 of this series, nearly three quarters of all new energy generation capacity added in 2019 globally was renewable, while wind energy specifically made up 34% of that total, as China and the US surged with new deployments. In the same year, the MENA region added 894 MW of wind energy to its production capacity. While that actually represents a slight decrease compared to new capacity delivered in 2018, it’s still indicative of a strong trend of investment and a reliable delivery pipeline of projects that is expected to grow significantly in the first half of this decade, as Morocco, Egypt and Saudi Arabia lead the way.

Specifically, the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) predicted that the region will install another 10.7GW of wind energy capacity between 2020-2024, which represents a 167% increase compared to the current market status.

Both the current new deployments and the promised pipeline of new ones is predicated on the continuing trend of wind energy production getting cheaper. To highlight just how much of a change has occurred in the past five years, wind is now the cheapest form of produced energy in 12 different countries around the world, including China, Canada, Brazil, Germany, Mexico the US and the UK. At the end of 2014, this only applied to three countries worldwide – Denmark, Germany and Uruguay. Together, wind and solar energy are now the cheapest available forms of power for over two thirds of the world’s populace, a proportion that is highly likely to make inroads on the final third as the decade advances. 

Gains upon gains – efficiency and sustainability techs to look out for

While decreasing costs of produced power is a vital yardstick for measuring the overall potential of wind energy market to expand, so is its ability to be scaled up in an efficient and sustainable manner, so that it can help supply global demand in a meaningful way without losing its most appealing long-term strengths along the way. As such, the emergence of new technological innovations is making the future of wind all the more promising.

3D-printed concrete – Solving the costs of offshore wind farm construction: The creation of offshore wind turbines is a highly expensive process that requires parts to be shipped up to 30 miles from the shore and assembled, often at considerable cost and risk. Currently, Purdue University engineering teams are researching the feasibility of using 3D-printed concrete as a cheaper alternative. Not only is the material itself cheaper, it can also allow for the parts to be assembled on shore and then floated out to the designated spot, further reducing the associated costs of the whole process.

Wooden wind turbines from Sweden: Outside of Gothenburg there now stands a 30-metre-high wind turbine that has been constructed of laminated wood, which allows it to be built taller than a steel turbine, much more cheaply and in a carbon-neutral manner. With a successful proof-of-concept wooden wind turbine now in place, its creators Modvion believe that this could be the start of a revolutionary stage in the expansion of renewable energy in Sweden and the rest of the EU.

Airfoil blades unlock potential of rooftop wind energy: Tiny turbines on the roofs of homes and more modest office buildings have been traditionally negligible in terms of wind energy generation because of the logistical constraints of space and maintenance processes involved. However, a radical new design from Sandia National Laboratories features a turbine utilising pairs of blades that resemble airplane wings, which allows the wind to flow around and amplify both airfoils. If this approach proves capable of turning rooftop wind turbines into a viable contributor to the renewable energy mix, then expect to see a rapid and significant wave of rollouts. 

Wind is making its mark

In the latter years of the previous decade, it looked for a while like wind might soon be playing second fiddle to solar as the ability to effectively scale up the former looked more challenging than the latter. Now, as 2020 unfolds, it is becoming increasingly clear that both forms of renewable energy are destined to play a fundamentally vital role in the global energy transition away from hydrocarbon reliance. Wind energy is not only cheap to produce, its production facilities are also getting cheaper to build and maintain, thanks to potentially ground-breaking innovations emerging from all over the world.