Rhein on Energy and Climate

After hydro power wind energy presently constitutes the biggest source of renewable energy on earth, ahead of PV electricity. The EU is the biggest producer of wind energy, China coming second. Both register extraordinary growth rates.

Installed wind capacity accounts for 4 per cent of total power capacity in China and 5 per cent in the EU. But considering that many Chinese wind turbines are not well connected with the grid, the share of wind energy in Chinese energy production is less than four per cent.

Both EU and China envisage a rapid increase of their wind generating capacities in the coming 10 years, the EU with rising emphasis on off-shore wind parks. The EU projects a capacity growth from 82 GW in 2010 to 210 GW in 2020. China wants to grow even faster, from 42 GW to 150 GW.

With the expansion of wind parks in the coming years the size of the turbines will increase. Here European manufacturers retain a competitive edge. The biggest turbines set up in Europe, reaching six megawatt, are technological miracles; in order to use scarce land and sea areas more efficiently Europe will replace many 1-2 MW turbines by bigger and higher ones that will be less sensitive to fluctuating winds.

Wind turbines are too heavy and unwieldy to be shipped over big distances. Manufacturers therefore have little choice but to assemble them in the countries of destination.

Major European manufacturers have therefore invested in assembly lines in USA and most recently in China, where they had suffered in the past from a “Buy Chinese” policy of state-owned utilities.

Wind energy is expected to remain a buoyant market during the next four decades. But it is likely lose its dominant place in renewable energies to solar PV installations, which are expected to become cheaper and more reliant. In this field, European manufacturers do not play the first violin. They have ceded the terrain to Korean, Taiwanese, Japanese and Chinese companies. It will be difficult to regain the terrain, unless the EU rises to the challenge. To that end, it will have to give a push to the fragmented European solar industry, for energetic and industrial reasons.

In order to reach its ambitious 2050 energy and climate targets Europe cannot rely only on wind and biomass. Solar power, both PV and solar thermal, will have to be an integral part of the future energy mix, and European manufacturers should supply a substantial share of the future needs.

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  1. Mr. Rhein, you are correct to note that Europe has the global technological lead in wind power. But the global race for leadership in the wind industry is on: China and other nations could challenge the EU’s leadership. That is one of the reasons why we need to increase Europe’s emissions reduction target from 20 to 30%, and to set a new target for the share of renewable energies: 45% by 2030. Both targets would give a very strong signal to investors in Europe’s burgeoning green economy.

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