Wind rises to fill the gap as energy demand slumps and emissions fall

Wind power's potential to carry a greater role in worldwide electricity generation has been highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic. But huge investment and political will is still urgently required to drive further progress in the sector

Wind and other renewables have performed strongly during the crisis (pic: Joerg Boethling)
Wind and other renewables have performed strongly during the crisis (pic: Joerg Boethling)

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The global lockdown in the spring gave a glimpse of what the world could look like with a massive reduction in carbon emissions. The grounded aeroplanes, empty offices, and huge reductions in private and public transport use cleared the skies and cleaned the air we all breathe. Suddenly, it seemed possible to open up a proper debate about energy  demands within a sustainable and environmental framework. Coal-fired plants were closing, the price of oil was plummeting to the point where it was no longer economically viable to extract it — with a knock-on effect for gas — and nuclear was wrestling with its own high costs and working practices. Wind and solar PV were filling the gap.

Fast-forward to the autumn and it becomes harder to see whether the public-health crisis is driving a genuine renewable-energy opportunity, or just more business as usual. The implications of a second wave to the pandemic are unclear.

The rate of new installations has, so far, stood up pretty well to the effects of the virus (see map). According to Windpower Intelligence, the data division of Windpower Monthly, 25.6GW of new capacity was added in the first eight months of 2020, only fractionally down on the 25.7GW for the same period last year. China showed the biggest drop, falling from 13.4GW in 2019 to 10.2GW this year, but several markets showed solid growth, particularly the US.  The offshore sector also showed a slight improvement on last year, but that can be largely attributed to two or three very large developments being commissioned.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), full lockdowns of the type imposed in many countries from March until June resulted in a 25% drop in energy demand, with partial lockdowns prompting an 18% fall. The IEA predicts that global CO2 emissions will fall by 8% over 2020 as a whole, which would make it the biggest year-on-year reduction ever recorded. It would, however, only take us back to 2010 levels of carbon emissions.

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