DNV GL sets ambitious goals for wind by 2050

Do you want the good news or the bad news first? Well, on the basis of this study, 75% of people would prefer to get the bad news out of the way, so let’s do that.

Energy advisory DNV GL last week published its ‘Energy Transition Outlook’ report for 2017, with predictions about how the global energy market could develop in the years up to 2050. It said that even with major growth in renewables, the world would fail to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius by the end of this century, as compared to temperatures before the industrial revolution. That is the bad news.

We have seen again in the last two weeks what this means in practice, from havoc wrought by hurricanes in North America to the devastating floods in South Asia. Our thoughts are with readers – and others – who have been affected by those disasters.

That said, the wind sector is full of people working hard to try to limit those rises and, for them, there is a lot of good news in the DNV GL report too. By 2050, it said there would be far more demand for electricity than there is currently, and that wind would be able to provide a far greater proportion of that electricity than now. Essentially, it means that the wind sector would take a larger slice of what would be a larger pie.

But that’s pretty vague, so let’s pin it down to some dates and figures. DNV GL has forecast that global energy demand will plateau after 2030 even though the world’s population keeps growing. This is because people can use energy more efficiently.

Despite this, it also forecast that electricity consumption would increase 140% over the next 33 years to become the single biggest energy source, followed by gas. This means that electricity would produce nearly half (48%) of total global energy requirements by 2050, which is two-and-a-half times higher than its current 19%.

So why would electricity demand grow as overall energy demand plateaus? Simply, as a response to political targets to cut emissions as set out in the Paris agreement, and emerging trends including growing demand for electricity vehicles. DNV GL said that rapid take-up of electric vehicles from 2033 would increase electricity demand at the expense of conventional fossil fuels. And renewables will benefit from that shift.

In this model, wind would produce 36% of the world’s total electricity need by 2050 – split roughly 2:1 between onshore and offshore – and solar would also produce 36%. It also means that wind farms would produce around 13% of the world’s energy need even when factoring in fossil fuels, including coal and gas. It is 0.45% now. So bigger pie, bigger slice – and a lot more wind farms to be financed, built and operated.

This is just one piece of research, of course – albeit a large one at 230 pages. If you wanted to then you could no doubt find a host of reports with different conclusions.

After all, DNV GL has had to make a host of big assumptions to support its findings. These include the falling cost of wind technology; continued political support, even if not via subsidies; the development of storage as an answer to grid instability; rising public appetite for electric vehicles; a quintupling of power investments from current levels; and the fact that it cannot know what other new energy innovations may come along in the next 33 years. Real life will no doubt play out differently from this model.

But we like the fact that, amid all the bad news in the world, we can find studies that make a strong case that wind could become a dominant player in the global energy mix. Deadly storms may scare and depress us, but goals like this can keep us going.

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