Offshore wind can power the world – IEA


Photo credit: ABB.

By Anders Lorenzen

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has often been accused of downplaying the role of renewable energy. But they seem to have fully endorsed at least one renewable energy technology as the most powerful and, looking forward, the technology with the most potential. Thus states the agency in a new study.

The detailed study of the world’s coastlines found that offshore wind farms alone could provide more electricity than the world needs. This applies even if the turbines can only be built in windy regions in shallow waters near the shore.

Offshore wind to power the world

The analysis conducted by the IEA revealed that if wind farms were built across all useable sites, no further than 60km (37 miles) off the coast, and where coastal waters are no deeper than 60 metres, they could generate 36,000 terawatt-hours (TWh) of renewable electricity a year. This would easily meet the current global electricity demand which stands at 23,000 TWh. However, the global energy outlook predicts that the demand for electricity will surge in future years. This is because transport will be electrified, poorer economies will continue to grow, and more and more people are moving out of poverty. IEA was also bullish about one of the newest innovations to the offshore wind technology, floating offshore wind. IEA stated that the next generation of floating turbines capable of operating further from the shore could generate enough energy to meet the world’s total electricity demand 11 times over in 2040.

Most comprehensive offshore wind study

The agency’s executive director, Faith Birol, addressed the report while visiting Denmark. That Scandinavian country was where the world’s first offshore wind farm was opened back in 1991. It is also home to the world’s biggest operator of offshore wind farms, the clean energy company Orsted. Despite only accounting for 0.3 % of the global installed energy capacity, offshore wind has grown rapidly in the last decade while the costs have been reduced significantly. CEO Birol believes the energy source could become a cornerstone of the world’s power supply encouraged by reductions in cost as well as continuing improvements in technology.

IEA believes that purely based on current and proposed policies, capacity is set to increase 15-fold over the next two decades, turning offshore wind into a $1-trillion business with Birol stating “the potential is huge”. IEA said that the study they carried out is the most comprehensive study of offshore wind to date.

Birol likened offshore wind to two other game-changers in the energy system: the shale revolution and the rise of solar PV.  He said that offshore wind had the potential to deliver similar steep cost reductions. IEA expects the average generation cost for global offshore wind to halve to $60 per megawatt-hour (MWh) during the next five years. The IEA head explained this reduction would be driven especially by bigger turbines, some measuring almost as high as the Eiffel tower, and lower financing costs.

This could be a game-changer for hydrogen

Birol also said that offshore wind could be a key component in hydrogen production which would allow us to decarbonise heating and heavy industry. The process of making hydrogen from water uses huge amounts of electricity; and therefore abundant, cheap offshore wind power could help produce a low-cost, zero-carbon alternative to gas.

IEA estimates that Europe will continue to be at the forefront of that revolution where offshore wind will soon beat new natural gas-fired capacity on cost and be on a par with solar photovoltaics (PV) and onshore wind. And in China, it is set to become competitive with new coal-fired capacity around 2030, IEA said.

But Birol also had a message for governments around the world: “If the governments are serious about their climate policies and climate neutrality they have to have dedicated policies in order to foster green technologies like offshore wind”.

Last year 15% of Denmark’s electricity came from offshore wind, and in future years the UK  will by around 2025 have the biggest capacity, and China is likely to have the largest offshore wind fleet. The industry is also growing rapidly in markets like the United States, Taiwan and Japan.


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