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Wind Energy Could Generate Nearly 20 Percent of World's Electricity by 2030
Wind power has a pivotal role to play in the world's energy supply over the next few years. By providing huge amounts of clean, affordable power, it can buy us time in the fight against global warming while revolutions in energy efficiency and solar power gain momentum.
Greenpeace and the Global Wind Energy Council have just released a two-yearly status report on wind energy and its prospects up to 2050.
In as little as five years' time wind power could prevent more than a billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) from being emitted each year by dirty energy. That's equivalent to Germany's and Italy's emissions combined, or Africa's total CO2 emissions, or those of Japan, or two-thirds of what India pumps out.
Ten years after that, wind power could be supplying up to 19 percent of the world's electricity and avoiding more than three billion tons of CO2 a year. By 2050, 25-30 percent of global power could come from harnessing the wind.
The wind industry has grown at around 26 percent per year over the past 18 years. Europe and China have been solid wind markets for over a decade.
Now the U.S. is on the way to gaining a 20 percent share of the world market. In the coming five years, the rapidly developing economies of Brazil, South Africa and India are likely to be among the next to reap the benefits of wind power.
The main reason for this is that wind power has become the least-cost option for adding new power capacity to the grid in an increasing number of markets. Prices are continuing to fall and smart investors are seizing on the potential. During each of the past four years, an average of €50 billion went into new wind power equipment. This could increase to €104 billion by 2020 and €141 billion by 2030, according to the status report.
There is also good news for jobs. Around 600,000 people currently work in the wind power industry. That figure could rise to around 1.5 million by 2020 and exceed 2 million jobs by 2030.
But what also makes wind power attractive is its 'scalability' and the speed that power can be brought on line. That's particularly important where people have no access to electricity. Contrast that with huge and highly controversial coal-fired or nuclear power plants that involve years of debate and construction.
(By the way, forget the claim by sceptics that more energy is used in manufacturing wind turbines than they supply. A wind turbine 'pays back' all of the carbon dioxide emissions from its manufacturing, installation, servicing and decommissioning in its first three to nine months of operation. That means pollution-free power for the rest of its 20-year design lifetime).
Why all this is important is because the power sector pumps out more than 40 percent of all CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels.
Wind power is an ideal technology to achieve early reductions in carbon pollution and to keep the window open to avoid global warming crossing the 2°C 'danger' threshold. But time is short for meeting climate protection targets and ensuring that global emissions peak and decline during this decade.
Capturing all of the future opportunities for wind power will once again depend on convincing recalcitrant policymakers and overcoming the vested interests of the fossil fuel lobby.
Sven Teske is a senior energy expert with Greenpeace International. Since 2005 he has been the project leader for the global energy scenario Energy [R]evolution: A Sustainable World Energy Outlook.
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Colorado River Has Lost 1.5 Billion Tons of Water to the Climate Crisis, 'Severe Water Shortages' May Follow
California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.
The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.
"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."
While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.
The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.
"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.
Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.
"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.
NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.
As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.
"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.
The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.
"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."
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A warm day in winter used to be a rare and uplifting relief.
Now such days are routine reminders of climate change – all the more foreboding when they coincide with news stories about unprecedented wildfires, record-breaking "rain bombs," or the accelerated melting of polar ice sheets.
Where, then, can one turn for hope in these dark months of the year?