Cutting emissions at zero cost

Wind energy has the potential to deliver nearly one-third of the global 5% emissions reduction target agreed to at Kyoto a year ago -- and it can do so at no extra cost and by the target date of 2010. This was just one of several hard hitting messages delivered by Greenpeace and the European Wind Energy Association to the climate change conference in Buenos Aires last month.

Wind's potential for reducing CO2 emissions is outlined in a new report, "Ten Percent of the World's Electricity Consumption from Wind Energy," released during the first week of the UN conference as part of a Global Action Plan for Wind. It outlines two scenarios for wind to meet 10% of the world's electricity from a generating base of 844,000 MW.

Based on detailed tracking of the likely future costs of electricity generation from both wind and conventional sources, reducing C02 emissions by substituting fossil fuel with wind can be achieved at a "zero abatement cost" or even less. "A negative abatement cost is equal to a benefit," the report points out. It has been prepared by Danish wind consultancy BTM Consult Aps for the Forum for Energy and Development, based in Copenhagen.

Two development scenarios are outlined. If wind development proceeds at a pace directed by "past developments and recent trends" the 10% target could be reached by 2026. But if governments take action and sign "international agreements" seriously aimed at meeting the Kyoto targets with the help of renewables, wind could supply 10% of world electricity by 2017, says the report. Today wind accounts for 0.11% of global consumption. Ten per cent of world electricity is equal to two-thirds of America's entire electricity consumption in 1995, or the entire consumption of Japan and China in 1995.

In both scenarios it is assumed that installed wind capacity is 20,000 MW in 2002, a projection based on current trends. Reaching the 10% target by 2026 "requires improved regulatory efforts to secure fair access for wind energy in liberalised electricity sectors" as well as fixed payback prices, easier access to equity capital, and support for technology transfer. The cumulative growth rate for wind plant installation -- which has averaged 46% over the past five years -- would need to average 25% until 2012, dropping to 20% over the next ten years and to 15% until 2026.

To meet the target already by 2017, the growth rate would have to average 28% until 2006 and then increase to a 30% yearly average until 2015, before dropping to 15%. Such growth would require the same market conditions as for the long term scenario, plus "an international binding agreement with fixed and quantified targets for all countries/regions" with wind as an integrated element of models for "green credit" trading and joint implementation. "Funds to new markets outside the OECD have to be provided by OECD countries," states the report.

If wind development grows to the levels recommended, its costs would drop from today's $0.05/kWh to under $0.03/kWh thus making wind competitive to "all known generating technologies today." If the external costs of power generation (such as those of pollution and the full costs of nuclear decommissioning) are added, wind power becomes even cheaper.

The four-point global action plan launched by the Forum for Energy Development calls for developed countries to set binding targets for wind, for transfer of wind technology to developing countries, for financing of wind development to be an integral part of Clean Development Mechanisms and Joint Implementation, and for a series of pilot actions.