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Energy agency still out of touch -- Forecasts fall short

Wind power must play a central role if the world is to halve its carbon dioxide emissions by 50% by 2050, says the International Energy Agency (IEA) in its latest biennial report, Energy Technology Perspectives. The IEA wind power forecasts, however, continue to be highly pessimistic and well below the industry's current growth trend.

Under the agency's so-called BLUE scenario, which maps out a path to the 50% emissions reduction goal, around 17,500 wind turbines need to be installed each year, to take global installed wind capacity from 94 GW today to 2010 GW in 2050, producing 5174 TWh of electricity a year. That will amount to 12% of global electricity production, it says, compared with 2% in the baseline business-as-usual scenario.

Around 31% of the electricity being generated by wind plant in 2050 under the plan will be in China, with Europe accounting for 23%, and North America 13%. In total, "just over 700,000 turbines of 4 MW size are required in the BLUE Map scenario, compared to 146,000 in the baseline scenario," the report says. Just to maintain emissions at current levels, as outlined under its ACT scenario, global wind capacity needs to rise to 1360 GW in 2050.

"While we believe the IEA continues to underestimate wind power's mid-to long term potential by about half, this scenario is much closer to what we believe is a sustainable energy future than anything we have seen from the IEA in the past," says Arthouros Zervos of the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), with reference to the BLUE scenario. "Wind power's technical maturity and speed of deployment is clearly acknowledged, along with the fact that there is no practical upper limit to the percentage of wind that can be integrated into the electricity system." GWEC's Steve Sawyer agrees: "For the first time, the IEA has clearly acknowledged that wind power is now a mainstream energy technology and the central role it must play in combating climate change."

As well as wind power, the IEA says to meet the ambitions of the BLUE scenario, around 35 coal and 20 gas-fired power plants must to be fitted with carbon capture and storage technology between 2010 and 2050, and 32 new nuclear plants built each year. "There should be no doubt, meeting the target of a fifty per cent cut in emissions represents a formidable challenge," says IEA's Nobuo Tanaka. "We would require immediate policy action and technological transition on an unprecedented scale. It will essentially require a new global energy revolution which would completely transform the way we produce and use energy."

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