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Wind Energy's Contribution to Emissions Reductions


The power sector today accounts for 41 per cent of global CO2 emissions (WEO, 2006), and continuing improvements of thermal power stations in terms of efficiency are offset by the strong growth in global power demand. The International Energy Agency (IEA, 2007) estimates that by 2030, electricity production will account for over 17,000 MtCO2, up from 10,500 MtCO2 in 2004.

According to the IEA, electricity generation has had an average growth rate of 2.6 per cent since 1995 and is expected to continue growing at a rate of 2.1-3.3 per cent until 2030, which would result in a doubling of global electricity demand. The bulk of this growth is expected to occur in developing Asia, with India and China seeing the fastest growth in demand. World CO2 emissions from power production are projected to increase by about 66 per cent over the period of 2004-2030. China and India alone would account for 60 per cent of this increase.

These figures emphasize the strong responsibility and key role that the power sector has to play in reducing CO2 emissions. According to the IEA, the power sector can be the most important contributor to global emission reductions, with potential CO2 savings of 6-7 Gt by 2050 on the demand side and 14-18 Gt of CO2 reductions on the supply side if the right policy choices are taken (IEA, 2008).

The carbon intensity of electricity production largely depends on a given country's generation mix. While inefficient coal steam turbines, which are still in use in many parts of the world, emit over 900 tCO2/GWh (UNFCCC, 2006) and oil steam turbines around 800 tCO2/GWh, modern combined cycle gas turbines only produce half these levels. China and India, which have a high share of coal in their power mix, see their electricity produced with over 900 tCO2/GWh, while other countries, with a high share of renewable energy, such as Brazil, produce power with only 85 tCO2/GWh. The global average for electricity production can be assumed to be at around 600 tCO2/GWh, which is close to the OECD average.


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Forth Assessment Report in 2007.  This left no doubt about climate change being real, serious and man-made. It warned that in order to avert the worst consequences of climate change, global emissions must peak and start to decline before the end of 2020. The potential of wind energy to curb global emissions within this timeframe is therefore key to the long-term sustainability of the power sector.

The benefit to be obtained from carbon dioxide reductions through wind energy again mainly depends on which other fuel, or combination of fuels, any increased wind power generation will replace, so this differs from country to country. For the purposes of this section, we assume a global average of 600 tCO2/GWh.

Following the logic of the GWEC Wind Energy Scenarios  (GWEC, 2008) presented in Part VI, global wind energy capacity could stand at more than 1,000 GW by the end of 2020, producing 2,500,000 TWh annually. As a result, as much as 1,500 MtCO2 could be saved every year.

It is important to point out that modern wind energy technology has an extremely good energy balance. The CO2 emissions related to the manufacture, installation and servicing over the average 20-year lifecycle of a wind turbine are offset after a mere three to six months of operation, resulting in net CO2 savings thereafter.



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