WindEconomics: How COP26 outcome could affect wind power capacity growth to 2050

Wind power is set to grow as the world moves from fossil fuels. How quickly will depend on global action to tackle the climate crisis

Wind and solar generation will continue to grow as the world tries to cut emissions (pic: ArcVera Renewables)
Wind and solar generation will continue to grow as the world tries to cut emissions (pic: ArcVera Renewables)

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Reducing carbon emissions to limit global warming is going to be a difficult task. The IEA’s latest World Energy Outlook outlines a number of scenarios that show the contribution from wind — whichever path is followed — is likely to be significant.

In the most pessimistic scenario, where current policies continue, wind generation increases fivefold between 2020 and 2050. In the most optimistic scenario, with the world on a path to net zero by 2050, wind generation increases by a factor of 15.

Whereas some other analyses suggest that solar PV will outstrip wind, the two technologies remain neck and neck in all the IEA scenarios. No serious competition is expected to challenge wind and solar.

Nuclear output only doubles between 2020 and 2050, even in the “path to net zero” scenario, rising to 5,497TWh — less than one quarter of the wind generation.

No new technologies emerge and the modest amounts of fossil-fuel generation with carbon capture and storage suggest that high costs will inhibit the amount of generation that can be deployed.

IEA generation cost estimates

Generation cost estimates are tabulated for each of the IEA scenarios and for four regions: the US, the European Union, China and India. In the stated policies scenario, the US delivers the lowest estimates for onshore wind, falling to $30/MWh in 2050, compared with $45 in the EU. 

However, the EU, along with China, delivers the lowest estimate for offshore wind for 2050, at $35/MWh. The reason for offshore estimate being lower than lower than the onshore equivalents in these regions is due to the much higher assumed average capacity factor: 58% for offshore compared with 30% for onshore in 2050, coupled with lower operation and maintenance costs offshore, largely due to the economies of scale that can realised with the large offshore farms that are proposed.

Solar PV, by 2030, is generally slightly cheaper than wind, everywhere. In India and China, the cost falls to $15/MWh by 2050 in all the scenarios. In the net-zero scenario, the lowest estimate for the US in 2050 is $20/MWh.

Update on solar

Berkeley Laboratory’s update on utility-scale solar has just been published. (Click here for our recent review of the wind report). The table below compares key data for the technologies in the US and shows that the median costs of energy are almost identical.

The values listed do not account for the effect of the investment tax credit (ITC), which reduces the solar price to $28/MWh. As there is a wide spread of values around the medians, the slight cost advantage of wind is not significant. It may be noted that the capacity of solar in the interconnection queues is more than double that of wind.

The turmoil in the world energy markets continues. On 13 October, the natural gas futures price in the US was slightly less than the figure of $19/MWh cited in the last WindEconomics column, but still 80% more than a year ago. European gas and electricity prices were even higher; on 13 October the average electricity price across several markets was around €200/MWh ($238/MWh).

Some commentators think that prices will remain high for several months. At these prices, the competitive advantages of both wind and solar are indisputable and mean that projects could possibly be initiated without the need for any support mechanism.

At a glance — This month’s report conclusions

World Energy Outlook 202, International Energy Agency, October 2021 Comprehensive review of  all forms of energy and how the technologies may respond to the challenges of meeting climate change targets.

Utility-Scale Solar, 2021 Edition, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, October 2021 Trends in PV deployment, technology, cost, performance and value in the United States

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