IEA: Offshore windfarms ‘can provide more electricity than the world needs’

A sailing boat passes the Kentish Flats offshore windfarm. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PAErecting wind turbines on the world's best offshore sites could provide more than enough clean energy to meet global electricity demand, according to a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

IEA: Offshore windfarms ‘can provide more electricity than the world needs’

Pictured: The world’s largest operational offshore wind farm

A detailed study of the world’s coastlines has found that offshore wind farms alone could provide more electricity than the world needs – even if they are only built in windy regions in shallow waters near the shore.

Analysis by the IEA revealed that if wind farms were built across all useable sites which are no further than 60km (37 miles) off the coast, and where coastal waters are no deeper than 60 metres, they could generate 36,000 terawatt-hours of renewable electricity a year. This would easily meet the current global demand for electricity of 23,000 terawatt-hours.

“Offshore wind currently provides just 0.3% of global power generation, but its potential is vast,” the IEA’s executive director, Fatih Birol, said.

The study predicts offshore wind generation will grow 15-fold to emerge as a $1tn (£780bn) industry in the next 20 years and will prove to be the next great energy revolution.

The IEA said last week that global supplies of renewable electricity were growing faster than expected and could expand by 50% in the next five years, driven by a resurgence in solar energy. Offshore wind power would drive the world’s growth in clean power due to plummeting costs and new technological breakthroughs, including turbines close to the height of the Eiffel Tower and floating installations that can harness wind speeds further from the coast.

The next generation of floating turbines capable of operating further from the shore could generate enough energy to meet the world’s total electricity demand 11 times over in 2040, according to IEA estimates.

The report predicts that the EU’s offshore wind capacity will grow from almost 20 gigawatts today to nearly 130 gigawatts by 2040, and could reach 180 gigawatts with stronger climate commitments.

In China, the growth of offshore wind generation is likely to be even more rapid, the IEA said. Its offshore wind capacity is forecast to grow from 4 gigawatts to 110 gigawatts by 2040 or 170 gigawatts if it adopts tougher climate targets.

Birol said offshore wind would not only contribute to generating clean electricity, but could also offer a major opportunity in the production of hydrogen, which can be used instead of fossil fuel gas for heating and in heavy industry.

The process of making hydrogen from water uses huge amounts of electricity but abundant, cheap offshore wind power could help produce a low-cost, zero-carbon alternative to gas.

In the North Sea, energy companies are already planning to use the electricity generated by giant offshore windfarms to turn seawater into hydrogen on a floating “green hydrogen” project, backed by the UK government. The clean-burning gas could be pumped back to shore to heat millions of homes by the 2030s. The UK has committed to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.


The overlap between the UK’s declining oil and gas industry and the burgeoning offshore wind sector could offer major economic benefits for the UK, Birol said.

“Offshore wind provides a huge new business portfolio for major engineering firms and established oil and gas companies which have a strong offshore production experience,” he said. “Our analysis shows that 40% of the work in offshore wind construction and maintenance has synergies with oil and gas practises.”

Jillian Ambrose 

This article first appeared on the Guardian

edie is part of the Guardian Environment Network 

Comments (2)

  1. Keiron Shatwell says:

    Until the wind doesn’t blow.

    Remember that unless the wind is more than 4m/s (14km/hr or 9mph) the blades might be turning but the turbine is a net consumer of power.

    Then when it is more than 20m/s (70km/hr or 44mph) they have to feather and brake them to stop them blowing up.

    If we rely on a single source of power, whatever it is, we will find times when the lights go out. Instead of focusing on what this or that can do we have got to concentrate on a varied, balanced generation capability involving all forms of non combustion generation (with some minor CCS Gas generation as emergency backup). I’m talking hydro, fluvial, tidal stream, pumped storage, compressed storage, solar, wind, thermal source pumps (Air, Ground Water). In the Mediaeval waterwheels powered blast furnaces to smelt steel so why don’t we look back to look forward?

  2. Richard Phillips says:

    Kieron, neatly put on the useful range of wind power.
    The use of a single technology, is different. With coal, gas, or nuclear power, the outage of one unit is individual, the power sources are not unified. But with wind or solar, its one out, possibly all out.
    For one week last July, a high pressure area dominated the UK, and wind power went down to a few hundred MW, from a possible 20,000MW. From 20 power stations on paper to about one, and less, for a week.
    And all the business people and politicians can talk about is the potency of wind. All the right energy, but not NECESSARILY at the right time!
    read the reports from official sources, its all TWh, no hint of absence of demand lead power.
    They just do not know, end of story until they do understand.
    Richard Phillips

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