The report, "Europe's Onshore and Offshore Wind Energy Potential An Assessment of Environmental and Economic Constraints," concludes that the wind power generation potential is far greater than previously thought. Despite the environmental and social constraints on wind sector development, like noise, visual impact and danger to wildlife, wind could easily play a much bigger role in achieving the European renewable energy targets of 20% of power generation from renewable sources by 2020.
At the end of 2008, 65 gigawatts (GW) of wind power capacity was installed in the European Union's (EU) 27 nations, producing 142 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity. Wind energy currently meets 3.7% of EU electricity demand and the goal is to boost that to 12% by 2020. The report claims that wind power's potential in 2020 will be three times greater than Europe's expected electricity demand, rising to a factor of seven by 2030.
"The EEA clearly recognises that wind power will be key to Europe's energy future" said Christian Kjaer, Chief Executive Officer of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA). "Now that oil prices are again on the rise, the EEA report sends a reminder to Europe's policy makers that wind power is a clean and proven energy technology and Europe is the world leader."
According to the EWEA, the report's findings show that its own 230-GW target for 2020 is "eminently achievable." That would amount to 600 TWh per year in the EU by 2020, accounting for between 14% and 18% of total EU electricity demand and enough power to run 135 million homes.
In terms of onshore potential, agricultural land is the preferred location for building windfarms in Europe, and France and Spain have the largest agricultural land area, while Sweden, Finland, Turkey and Norway have the largest forest areas. In regard to offshore potential, the UK (114,000 square kilometres) and Norway (88,000 square kilometres) comprise the largest share of available offshore area for wind energy generation.
There are challenges that need to met in order for wind power to achieve its potential and the report points out that one of the most pressing is an overhaul of existing transmission grids.
The report states: "[The] high penetration levels of wind power will require major changes to the grid system i.e. at higher penetration levels additional extensions or upgrades both for the transmission and the distribution grid might be required to avoid congestion of the existing grid." The EEA has called for a European-wide approach to upgrading national grids so that they can handle much larger amounts of wind energy.