Wind energy produces no greenhouse gases and the energy used to build the turbine is produced in just three to six months. Wind energy alone will avoid CO2 emissions equivalent to 29 per cent of the EU's emissions reduction target by 2020.
Wind energy has the potential to play a major role in tackling both the economic and climate crises, suggests the European Wind Energy Association's Julian Scola…
Before it started taking off in the 1990s, wind energy was often seen as a niche 'environmentally friendly' source of power, beloved by greenies and a few engineers. While wind energy's environmental credentials are indeed impeccable, the economic turmoil of recent years has meant the power source is being examined in a new light, and it has been found to have a lot to offer.
The European Wind Energy Association's (EWEA) most recent report reveals that the wind energy industry in Europe makes a significant contribution to the EU's economy. In 2010, the wind energy sector contributed €32.43bn to the EU's GDP and the increase in contribution from the previous year was 4 per cent, twice as high as the growth of GDP itself. Between 2007 and 2010, the wind energy sector increased its contribution to GDP by 33 per cent, growing much faster than the EU's economy as a whole. This will remain the case over the next two decades.
The report – entitled 'Green Growth – the impact of wind energy on jobs and the economy' – has found that almost a quarter of a million people are already employed in wind energy in the EU and that this number grew by 30 per cent from 2007 to 2010, when overall EU employment was shrinking by 9.6 per cent. By 2020 there will be more than half a million people employed in wind energy in Europe and almost 800,000 by 2030.
The wind industry is a major industrial exporter with €8.8bn worth of products and services sold abroad in 2010. By contrast, in that same year it imported only €3.2bn, making it a motor for EU exports. Similarly, the wind industry has a locomotive effect on numerous other economic sectors. Every euro spent in the wind industry generates a further €0.90 across the economy, in sectors as varied as metals, IT, construction or transport.
But while much of the world's attention is focused on the economic crisis, the climate crisis becomes ever more acute. A recent report from the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that a 50 per cent global increase in greenhouse gas emissions and worsening air pollution is likely by 2050 unless politicians rapidly work together to find sustainable growth policies. The report also noted that world energy demand in less than four decades could be 80 per cent higher and still 85 per cent reliant on fossil fuel-based energy unless radically new development paths are chosen.
Wind energy produces no greenhouse gases and the energy used to build the turbine is produced in just three to six months. Wind energy alone will avoid CO2
emissions equivalent to 29 per cent of the EU's emissions reduction target by 2020.
And while the power sector is the one of the world's biggest consumers of water, wind power uses very little water to produce electricity. Coal uses up to 3.2m3
of water per megawatt hour (MWh) of electricity produced, gas uses up to 1.7m3
per MWh and nuclear around 2.7m3
per MWh, but wind power uses only a fraction of these amounts.
In the US, the Department of Energy estimates that with a 20 per cent share of wind power in the power system by 2030, as much as 15 trillion litres of water could be saved – equivalent to the annual consumption of more than nine million US citizens.
Wind energy can do a good deal for both the economy and the climate. That is why it is essential to fill the current gap in EU legislation on renewable energy that is looming after 2020. At the moment, EU countries have a binding renewables target to meet by that year – averaging out to 20 per cent overall. This target has spurred and guided the industry up until now. But unless further legislation – centred on a binding renewables target for 2030 (a proven formula) – is put in place rapidly, investors will lose confidence.
There are signs that such a target will be set. Both the EU Energy Commissioner and the Climate Change Commissioner have mentioned the need for discussions on a 2030 target, and Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger has stated he wants such a target to be in place by 2014.
A 2030 renewable energy target could be set at 45 per cent, which would take the electricity sector towards 100 per cent renewables in 2050. A fully decarbonised power sector is the only way of reaching the EU's pledged emissions reduction of 80-95 per cent carbon reductions economy-wide by 2050, since other economic sectors such as transport will be unable to reduce emissions sufficiently by then.
Alongside a renewables target, the carbon emission reduction target needs to be increased and reinforced. It is currently set at 20 per cent by 2020 (compared to 1990 emission levels), which should be reached fairly easily because the lower industrial output during the economic crisis has meant that emissions have dropped anyway. The 2020 target should be raised to 30 per cent, which will put the EU on track to meet its 2050 cuts.
The economic crisis has also had an impact on the effectiveness of the EU's Emissions Trading System (ETS). This system – in theory, Europe's key emissions-cutting strategy – provides polluters with a limited numbers of permits or 'allowances' to emit carbon. If they want to emit any more carbon, they have to buy more allowances. However, because industrial production has slowed down in the crisis, there are spare allowances on the market, and the carbon price has dropped. In order to fix the problem, and allow the ETS to do what it was set up to do – reduce emissions and change the way we produce electricity by putting a price on fossil fuel generation – some of these extra allowances should be removed from circulation. Recently, both the European Parliament and the EU's environment ministers called for action to be taken on fixing the carbon price.
The other crucially important area for the wind energy industry is the EU's energy infrastructure – its power grids and its energy market. A joined-up European grid would allow electricity to be traded, boosting energy security, bringing power prices down and allowing more renewable energy online. EWEA is running a campaign on this subject with Europacable and Eurelectric, and so far 65 companies and organisations have lent their support.1
The European Commission's infrastructure package, published in autumn 2011, proposes €9.1bn for priority connection projects, although the exact details of where the money would go still have to be hammered out.
Talk of a 2030 binding renewables target is in the air; legislation on the power grid is being debated; the EU institutions appear to recognise the need to fix the ETS. These are all positive signs, but action needs to be taken rapidly to ensure wind energy keeps on creating more jobs, contributing increasingly to GDP and fighting climate change.
This article originally appeared on Publicservice.co.uk: The answers in the wind