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Wind Power

More efforts needed
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In this report

In 2020, onshore wind electricity generation increased by 144 TWh (+11%). Capacity additions increased an unprecedented 108 GW, twice as much as in 2019, mainly owing to a commissioning rush in China and the United States, which together accounted for 79% of global wind deployment. However, the full impact of this construction boom on electricity generation will be most visible in 2021, as many of the installations were commissioned in Q4 of 2020.

Offshore wind generation growth amounted to 25 TWh (+29%) in 2020, with capacity additions of 6 GW, the same as in 2019. Overall, 1 592 TWh of electricity were generated from wind installations in 2020, 12% more than in 2019.

To attain the 8 000 TWh required in 2030 under the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario, generation must increase an average 18% per year during 2021-2030. It is also necessary to raise annual capacity additions to 310 GW of onshore wind and 80 GW of offshore wind. Much stronger efforts are needed to achieve this level of sustained capacity growth, with the most important areas for improvement being cost reductions and technology improvements for offshore wind, and facilitating permitting for onshore wind.

Wind power generation in the Net Zero Scenario, 2000-2030

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Tracking progress

The amount of electricity generated by wind increased almost 170 TWh (+11%) in 2020, similar to growth in 2019 and the highest of all power generation technologies in 2020. Wind remains the primary non-hydro renewable technology, generating 1 592 TWh, almost as much as all the others combined.  

Globally, an unprecedented 108 GW of onshore wind was installed in 2020, doubling 2019 growth. This record level of installations resulted from Chinese and US developers rushing construction to meet support scheme deadlines. These two countries made up 79% of global deployment, but the majority of projects were commissioned in Q4 2020, which means their full impact on annual generation will not be clear until sometime in 2021.  

Regarding offshore wind, 6 GW was added in 2020, similar to 2019. Half of this capacity was commissioned in China, and almost all the rest was in the European Union and the United Kingdom.  

Reaching the Net Zero power generation level of 8 008 TWh in 2030 will require average wind generation growth of 18% per year during 2020-2030, as well as annual capacity additions of 310 GW of onshore wind and 80 GW of offshore wind. After the exceptionally high capacity additions of 2020, growth is expected to slow in the next years, highlighting the need for strong efforts to achieve the Net Zero trajectory.  

As a part of its Offshore Wind Outlook 2019, the IEA initiated new geospatial analysis to assess the technical potential of offshore wind by country. Its study showed that the best close-to-shore offshore wind sites globally could provide almost 36 000 TWh of electricity per year, which is very close to the global electricity demand projected for 2040. However, several challenges will have to be overcome for this enormous potential to be successfully exploited. Government policies will continue to be critical in determining to the future of offshore wind. 

Net annual wind capacity additions, 2018-2020

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China's onshore wind capacity expanded enormously in 2020, almost tripling 2019 growth to reach nearly 69 GW. A construction rush happened in Q4, as projects contracted under the country’s former FIT scheme as well as those awarded in previous central or provincial competitive auctions had to be connected to the grid by the end of the year. In upcoming years, however, capacity growth is expected to decrease significantly, as new projects will not qualify for generous support schemes. 

Similarly, developers in the United States rushed to complete their projects before expiration of the production tax credit, which led to record onshore wind deployment of almost 17 GW, nearly twice as much as in 2019. Although the tax credit scheme was extended for another year in December 2020, it is expected that capacity addition growth will be slower in upcoming years, as the number of projects eligible for full tax credits will be limited. 

Capacity additions in the European Union and the United Kingdom remain at 8 GW, similar to 2019. Significant acceleration is expected in upcoming years, however, as countries redouble their efforts to pursue climate targets. Wind capacity growth in India decreased 50% in 2020 to just 1 GW due to construction delays caused by the Covid-19 crisis. Challenges in accessing suitable land and assuring grid connections are the main constraints to deployment acceleration.  

Although offshore capacity additions remained concentrated in Europe and China in 2020, many new countries are expected to add their first large-scale offshore wind farms in the coming years. 

In the United States, developers have proposed multiple projects in four different states (Maryland, New York [Long Island], New Jersey and North Carolina). Meanwhile, Chinese Taipei completed an auction for 5.5 GW of offshore wind capacity and the utility has already signed power purchase agreements for 1 GW, with the revised feed-in tariff announced in late February 2019. 

In Japan, the parliament has approved a new law to define project development zones. This new legislation is expected to reduce permitting and grid connection challenges, spurring the deployment of large-scale projects. 

The pace of growth in these nascent markets could accelerate the expansion of offshore wind outside of Europe and China. These markets face permitting and grid connection challenges, however, and costs remain relatively high. 

In Europe, accelerated growth depends on how offshore wind figures in countries' renewable energy plans to achieve the newly adopted 2030 targets. In China, faster cost reductions need to be achieved to accelerate growth, as the government aims to reduce renewable energy subsidies.

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