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Wind Energy - A Future Toward Net Zero

September 24, 2021 | Energy & Power

Economic growth worldwide has led to a steady demand for energy expansion and associated generation capacities to maintain the momentum. With decreasing technology costs and rising fuel prices, the technology sector for renewable energies has become severely competitive. Even major energy exporters consider renewable energy options to reduce domestic fossil fuel consumption and maintain export oil and gas reserves. Using renewable energy in a regional context can improve access to a reliable and affordable power supply, reduce CO2 emissions, promote new investments, and generate new employment.

Wind power is one of the fastest-growing renewable energy sources. It is witnessing substantial growth due to the falling costs of installation. According to the latest data from International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the global installed capacity of onshore and offshore wind farms has increased almost 75 times over the past two decades, from 7.5 GW in 1997 to 743 GW in 2020. The industry's expansion is fueled by the growing demand for cleaner energy sources across various industries. Rising electricity consumption and a paradigm shift toward renewable energy solutions for residential and industrial use are resulting in market expansion. Incorporating renewable energy fuels, such as wind and solar photovoltaic PV, into daily life favors business growth. Furthermore, unfavorable public opinion on fossil fuel consumption, widespread demand for clean energy products for residential use, and emphasis on adopting wind energy are driving the market.

As technology advances, researchers develop better turbine technology, such as higher efficiency generators and more reliable blades to minimize energy manufacturing costs. In recent decades, wind turbines have evolved in many aspects to be more relevant in the energy sector. They are now considered a more renewable source of energy that can help reduce coal gas emissions. The wind energy industries have recently developed the blades differently and configured them to improve robustness and rotation speed. Furthermore, Offshore Wind Energy technology has been thoroughly studied, and the research has led to various advantages and ways to minimize the disadvantages of floating designs. According to a recent study by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), six technological advancements are attributable to the industry's growth. They are -

  • Larger Turbine Blades - A decade ago, the length of the rotor blades from apex to tip used to be 30 to 40 meters or about 115 feet. Today's rotor blades now correspond to the span of an ordinary passenger aircraft which is around 140 meters. The larger the radius of the rotor blades, the more wind it can penetrate and the greater the torque that drives the generator.

  • Taller Towers - Wind turbines and their towers are getting bigger. One of the examples is the Haliade X offshore wind turbine from GE Renewable Energy. The prototype unveiled in 2020, is being built at the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands. It is more powerful than the largest wind turbine in operation.

  • Improved Energy Production - Larger blades and taller turbines provide greater production efficiency. By comparison, an average turbine from a decade ago was capable of producing 1.5 MW of power. Since then, their capacity has grown, and now GE's Haliade X is among the largest power-producing turbine with a capacity of 14 MW.

  • Assembly - To make the transportation of the blades easier, the blades are thought to be created in such a way that they can be shipped in pieces and can be assembled later. This idea is still at the prototype stage and is warmly welcomed by the industry. The blades will be delivered in two parts, each between 70 and 80 meters long, and assembled on site. Some groups are experimenting with new composites such as carbon fiber or other lightweight materials to simplify on-site assembly.

  • Construction - Manufacturers are experimenting with building all-concrete towers to ensure durability. The concrete elements from which the tower is made will be produced on-site. In an innovative development, COBOD, GE Renewable Energy, and Lafarge Holcim will develop optimized 3D printed concrete bases for wind turbines, starting 2021.

  • Turbine Recycling - Wind turbine manufacturers are looking for ways to recycle their products when they are no longer profitable. In December 2020, GE Renewable and Veolia signed an agreement to recycle rotor blades removed from onshore wind turbines in the United States. The blade will be shredded at VNA's site and used as a substitute for coal, sand, and clay in cement plants in the country.

Offshore Wind – Energy That Will Matter

Offshore wind energy is clean and generated on the high seas. Since there are no obstacles, its speed is more elevated and constant than that on land. It is expected to play an essential role in the future of clean energy. The size of the turbines and the electricity capacity they provide are constantly increasing, leading to significant performance and cost improvements for offshore wind farms.

Countries worldwide are increasing investment in offshore wind power projects to use natural wind resources to generate electricity, stimulating the world market. With the introduction of advanced technologies and cost-effective solutions for offshore installations and wind turbines, the total installation cost is lower than it was in the past, making offshore wind power a viable option in the renewable energy category. Due to its ease of use and cost-effectiveness, the most preferred technology for offshore wind energy is a fixed structure. However, with planned and upcoming projects, floating structures will also grow significantly.

Wind Energy - A Future Toward Net Zero

Source: IRENA

Offshore wind – A Catalyst in Carbon Neutrality

According to the World Resources Institute report of July 2020, offshore wind power can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase the return on investment by embracing these technologies. The report pointed out that if the scale of offshore wind power generation is developed, it will reduce 0.3-1.61 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year by 2050. According to the report, every dollar invested in increased manufacturing capacity can generate a profit return on investment of USD 2- USD17. Additionally, between 2020 and 2050, the total discounted health benefits of switching to offshore renewable energy will range from USD0.15 trillion to USD4.4 trillion. The report points out that by 2050, the benefits of offshore energy conversion through water-saving alone can go from USD1.3 to USD1.4 trillion because wind systems require nearly zero water for power generation and cooling. Furthermore, offshore wind power generation between 650 and 3,500 terawatt-hours per year by 2050 is also expected to increase.

Wind Energy - A Future Toward Net ZeroWind Energy - A Future Toward Net Zero

Source: IEA

Wind Turbine – The Blades that Cut Emissions

Wind turbines do not require water for cooling and can reduce the usage of fossil fuels for energy generation, resulting in lower CO2 emissions. Furthermore, well-placed wind turbines can produce a substantial amount of electricity and provide a high return on investment.

The following points can sufficiently explain the benefits of wind turbines for the environment -

  1. Wind turbines have very low full-lifecycle carbon emissions. It is often specified that the energy and materials needed to manufacture and the concrete required for the base during construction emit too much CO2. But wind turbines do not use unusual amounts of concrete. Instead, several comparisons show that wind energy remains enormously better than fossil fuels in terms of CO2 generation.

  2. Wind turbines require a minimal backup - Wind energy does not need a particular "backup" generator. Service providers can schedule the system to anticipate when maintenance will be necessary to retain a smooth service flow. There rarely is a need for backup on a wind farm.

  3. Wind turbines have a small payback period in terms of energy. According to the International Journal of Sustainable Manufacturing, a wind turbine will reach the recovery of energy that was required to manufacture and set up the wind turbine within five to eight months once it is functional.

Steps Toward Net Zero Emissions

The global wind energy market has quadrupled through technological innovations and economies of scale during the last decade. It is regarded as one of the most economical and resilient energy sources throughout the world. In recent years, record growth has been driven by a wave of installations in China and the United States. These two of the largest wind power markets in the world together accounted for one-third of the new plants in 2020 and more than half of the total capacity of wind energy worldwide.

Wind Energy - A Future Toward Net ZeroWind Energy - A Future Toward Net Zero

Source: IEA                                                                     Source: IEA

However, Global Wind Energy Council's Global Wind Report 2021 shows that the current pace of wind energy adoption will not be enough to become carbon neutral by the mid of this century. Policymakers now need to take urgent action to boost wind power at the required pace. The steps suggested in the report are –


Steps Toward Realization Of Net-Zero Emissions

  • The world needs to install at least 180 GW of new wind energy annually to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, which means the industry and policymakers must act quickly to accelerate deployment.

  • Governments worldwide must take an "emergency" approach to eliminate bureaucracy and planning delays and expand network infrastructure to continue growing wind power at the required pace.

  • According to Global Wind Report 2021, GWEC's sixteenth annual flagship report, the world must install wind energy three times faster over the next decade to stay on a clean zero track and avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

  • Wind energy is the cornerstone of achieving clean zero and driving green energy as a competitive, sustainable energy source with the highest decarbonization potential per MW.

Industry Hotshots

Despite the enormous social and economic disruptions created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the year 2020 saw a surge in net-zero emission commitments from businesses all across the world. Net-zero emissions by 2050 are required to limit global warming to 1.5° celsius and avert some of the most severe consequences of climate change. Following are some of the major players in the industry who made commitments to achieve net-zero emissions.

  • BP - It is a British multinational oil and gas company. BP stood out as the first supermajor to make such a commitment. CEO Bernard Looney made a promise to attain net-zero emissions by 2050 or sooner, as well as a 50% reduction in the carbon intensity of the items it sells. The corporation stated that it would expand investments in low-carbon energy sources, such as wind, effectively reducing oil and gas production by 40% by 2030, and will install equipment to reduce methane emissions.

  • GE - On July 15, 2021, General Electric announced an important commitment to transfer its business to propagate climate change by setting up a target to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This goal includes Scope 3 emissions from customers’ use of the products it sells, which is a significant part of its emissions.

  • Siemens - All Siemens production facilities and buildings worldwide have the target of achieving a net zero-carbon footprint by 2030. Meanwhile, the company has already reduced 54% of its CO2 footprint by 2020.

Long Story Short

To summarize, it can safely be said that wind energy is a critical wedge in the fight against global warming. It produces less CO2 throughout than any other form of municipal scale generation when all factors are added together. As it reduces the dependence on fossil fuels, practically one-for-one, every hour, it cuts carbon dioxide emissions from the grid. Immediate measures are required to set nationalized targets for pollution control, developments that would lead to the increased installation of these energy projects, and the replacement of fossil fuels. This would, in turn, help reduce carbon emissions from power generation to ensure affordable energy for consumers.

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