Significant progress has been made, but not enough capacity is planned to achieve climate goals: report

Last year was record-breaking for wind power in the United States, with the installation of 17 gigawatts of new capacity, an 85% yearly increase over 2020. Since 2010, wind power in the U.S. has quadrupled its share in the country’s electricity mix.

Countries around the globe have made significant progress in awarding and installing new capacity, but not enough to meet international climate goals, according to a new report.

Globally, 8.5 gigawatts of offshore and 12.78 gigawatts of total wind power capacity were awarded during the second quarter of 2021, according to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), six times larger than last year and over 80% higher than the first quarter of 2021. Auctioning and tendering of capacity during the first half of 2020, it should be noted, were stymied by COVID-19 lockdowns. 

Still, the global offshore wind industry installed 6.1 gigawatts of capacity in 2020, down only slightly from the record of 6.24 gigawatts seen in 2019. GWEC expects a new record year in 2021, as China alone is expected to install 7.5 gigawatts this year.

Wind power is a crucial pillar of the Biden administration’s infrastructure program, noted Feng Zhao, GWEC’s head of market intelligence and strategy. “Currently, wind power supports over 120,000 jobs and has brought in over $65 billion over the past five years in the U.S.,” he said. “The offshore wind market could generate an additional $166 billion in new investment through 2022 and support another 80,000 jobs by 2035.”

Globally, 35 gigawatts of capacity are currently installed, and the GWEC report forecasts that 235 gigawatts of additional offshore wind capacity will be installed over the next decade, assuming that current policies continue. That will bring capacity to nearly eight times the current market size, but way below the capacity required to meet net-zero climate targets by 2050.

“The world has installed only 2% of the offshore wind capacity that will be needed by the middle of this century to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” said Zhao. “That’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the 71,000 gigawatts of offshore wind potential that exists in the world today and goes largely untapped.”

Stepped-up targets and policy changes could make a difference in closing that gap. The GWEC report found that current global targets account for 560 gigawatts, while the world needs 2,000 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2050 to have a chance of keeping global temperature increases under 1.5°C pre-industrial levels, the goal specified in the Paris climate agreement.

“Offshore wind’s decarbonization potential is being recognized by countries around the world,” said Zhao, “but overly complex permitting procedures remain a critical market barrier.”

The GWEC report calls for policy changes in the form of streamlined planning and permitting regimes, reduced red tape, and an overhaul of power grids and other infrastructures. “To achieve international climate targets,” said Zhao, “a sensible and positive regulatory environment needs to be in place to ensure successful procurement and smooth project timelines for both onshore and offshore wind.”