Wind energy offers significant potential for near-term (2020) and long-term (2050) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions. A number of different wind energy technologies are available across a range of applications, but the primary use of wind energy of relevance to climate change mitigation is to generate electricity from larger, grid-connected wind turbines, deployed either on- or offshore. Focusing on these technologies, the wind power capacity installed by the end of 2009 was capable of meeting roughly 1.8% of worldwide electricity demand, and that contribution could grow to in excess of 20% by 2050 if ambitious efforts are made to reduce GHG emissions and to address the other impediments to increased wind energy deployment. Onshore wind energy is already being deployed at a rapid pace in many countries, and no insurmountable technical barriers exist that preclude increased levels of wind energy penetration into electricity supply systems. Moreover, though average wind speeds vary considerably by location, ample technical potential exists in most regions of the world to enable significant wind energy deployment. In some areas with good wind resources, the cost of wind energy is already competitive with current energy market prices, even without considering relative environmental impacts. Nonetheless, in most regions of the world, policy measures are still required to ensure rapid deployment. Continued advances in on- and offshore wind energy technology are expected, however, further reducing the cost of wind energy and improving wind energy's GHG emissions reduction potential.
To achieve higher renewable energy (RE) shares than the low levels typically found in present energy supply systems will require additional integration efforts starting now and continuing over the longer term. These include improved understanding of the RE resource characteristics and availability, investments in enabling infrastructure and research, development and demonstrations (RD&D), modifications to institutional and governance frameworks, innovative thinking, attention to social aspects, markets and planning, and capacity building in anticipation of RE growth.
In many countries, sufficient RE resources are available for system integration to meet a major share of energy demands, either by direct input to end-use sectors or indirectly through present and future energy supply systems and energy carriers, whether for large or small communities in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) or non-OECD countries. At the same time, the characteristics of many RE resources that distinguish them from fossil fuels and nuclear systems include their natural unpredictability and variability over time scales ranging from seconds to years. These can constrain the ease of integration and result in additional system costs, particularly when reaching higher RE shares of electricity, heat or gaseous and liquid fuels.
Existing energy infrastructure, markets and other institutional arrangements may need adapting, but there are few, if any, technical limits to the planned system integration of RE technologies across the very broad range of present energy supply systems worldwide, though other barriers (e.g., economic barriers) may exist. Improved overall system efficiency and higher RE shares can be achieved by the increased integration of a portfolio of RE resources and technologies.
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