Winning with Wind — Part I

By: Tuuli Martin

The majority of the global energy supply is currently produced from fossil fuels. The demand for energy is expected to rise substantially as the human population grows. At the same time, it has been recognized that such dependency on fossil energy is unsustainable. In addition to various social and environmental impacts, carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion is the main driver of climate change.

In response to this urgent matter, virtually all governments around the world pledged to significantly cut their emissions under the Paris Agreement.1 Necessary emission reductions can be achieved by decreasing dependency on fossil fuels and increasing energy generation from renewables.

One of the leading nations in the development of renewable energy is Germany. Their Energiewende—the transition toward renewables—aims to achieve a secure, clean and affordable energy supply. Approximately one third of electricity produced in Germany in 2015 came from renewables of which the largest share was wind generated. Increasing the proportion of wind power in the energy market is one of the pillars of Germany’s Energiewende.2

In order to abide to the Paris Agreement, all member nations will have to develop strategies to decarbonize their energy sectors. Germany provides a good model for other countries to follow. Utilizing wind can bring significant CO2 emission reductions and help achieve climate goals.

Wind Energy Potential

Wind energy is a growing source of cost-effective, renewable energy. More power was supplied by wind turbines than by any other new technology in 2015.3 According to some models, wind-generated energy supply could exceed the world’s all-purpose power demand.4 Relatively low environmental impacts make this renewable source socially advantageous.

Development of wind energy reduces negative impacts on public health, in comparison to power generation from fossil fuels, while creating employment opportunities. Achieving climate goals adopted in the Paris Agreement is also highly dependent on the energy sector. Replacing fossil fuels with renewables can deliver half of emission reductions needed to avoid reaching the global warming threshold.5 Germany has developed an ambitious strategy for transforming their energy sector.

Germany has set a Renewable Energy Source target of obtaining most of the energy supply from renewables by 2035.6 Decreasing dependency on fossil fuels is expected to deliver simultaneous reductions in CO2 emissions. Utilizing onshore wind power is central to achieving these goals.

Onshore wind power is the most cost-effective renewable energy source in Germany.7 Even though onshore wind energy potential is notably higher in many other places in the world. Lu, McElroy, and Kiviluoma generated a map of annual wind energy potential per country.8 Their calculations accounted for geographic constraints such as forested, protected, and urban areas.

Germany is a low-wind country with the largest population in Europe.9,10 These conditions place Germany in a relatively modest position for renewable energy development. Therefore, the example of Germany’s transition will therefore make a useful case for other nations. As wind energy has low environmental impacts, investments in that sector can bring important emission reductions.

Wind energy systems have exceptionally good energy balance as CO2 emissions are produced only in technology manufacturing and handling processes.11 It is important to note, however, that the potential of wind energy varies regionally due to wind speeds, land suitability, policy implications, and location-specific social impacts. Factors that have supported the dominant source of renewable energy—wind power—as well as limited its development in Germany will be discussed in the next installment of this series.

Annual onshore wind energy potential country by country.12

[In Part II of Winning with Wind, Virginia Tech Master of Natural Resources student Tuuli Martin will examine the role a stable investment environment plays in growth of renewable energy — watch for it October 12!]


[Creative Commons License photos from Flickr courtesy of: Windwärts Energie, and EnergieAgentur.NRW.]

1.  The Paris Agreement builds upon the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The central aim of the agreement is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016. As of August 2017, 157 nations have ratified the agreement. “The Paris Agreement,” United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
2.  Agora Energiewende is a think tank funded by the European Climate Foundation and the Stiftung Mercator that focuses on dialogue with energy policymakers. Agora Energiewende. The Energiewende in a nutshell. Berlin: Agora Energiewende, 2017.
3.  Global Wind Energy Council. The Global Wind Energy Outlook 2016. Brussels: Global Wind Energy Council.
4.  Mark Z. Jacobson and Cristina L. Archer, “Saturation wind power potential and its implications for wind energy,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109, no.39 (2012): 15679–15684.
5.  Global Wind Energy Council. The Global Wind Energy Outlook 2016.
6.  Matthias Lang and Annette Lang, “The 2014 German Renewable Energy Sources Act revision – from feed-in tariffs to direct marketing to competitive bidding,” Journal of Energy & Natural Resources Law 33, no.2 (2015): 131-146.
7.  Frank Masurowski, Martin Drechsler and Karin Frank, “A spatially explicit assessment of the wind energy potential in response to an increased distance between wind turbines and settlements in Germany,” Energy Policy 97 (2016): 343-350.
8.  Xi Lu, Michael B. McElroy and Juha Kiviluoma, “Global potential for wind-generated energy,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106, no.27 (2009): 10933–10938.
9.  The cathegorization of low-wind country refers to the capacity factor. Capacity factor indicates the electricity-generating capacity during a representative year and accounts for technological and location related factors. For more detailed information see Juliana S. Lacerda and Jeroen C.J.M. van der Bergh, “Mismatch of wind power capacity and generation: causing factors, GHG emissions and potential policy responses,” Journal of Cleaner Production 128 (2016): 178-189.
10.  “The World Factbook,” Central Intelligence Agency.
11.  Global Wind Energy Council. The Global Wind Energy Outlook 2016.
12.  Lu, McElroy and Kiviluoma, “Global potential for wind-generated energy.”