The European wind energy industry installed a record 15.7 gigawatts of new wind energy capacity in 2017, bringing its cumulative total up to an impressive 169 gigawatts (GW), but the future for the industry is uncertain after a messy transition to an auction system and continued lack of clarity for post-2020 Government renewable ambitions.
These are the primary conclusions from new annual offshore and onshore wind statistics published this week by Europe’s wind energy trade body, WindEurope. New capacity increased by 25% over 2016 levels with 12.5 GW of new onshore wind capacity and — as highlighted earlier this month — 3.1 GW of new offshore wind capacity. Wind energy accounted for 55% of all new power generation capacity installed in Europe in 2017, helping push renewable energy as a whole to account for 84.5% of all new generation capacity.
“2017 was a strong year for wind energy with a high number of new installations and wind accounting for 12% of Europe’s electricity,” explained WindEurope CEO Giles Dickson. “It’s further evidence that wind is mainstream and delivers bang for your buck. It’s cheap, increasingly stable, and industrial consumers are now turning to it as an energy source of choice. Governments have nothing to fear from being ambitious on wind energy and renewables more broadly.
“That it was a record year reflects the fact that lot of the new projects were ‘pushed through the gates’ to benefit from feed-in-tariffs and other old support schemes while they still applied,” Dickson added. “This was especially the case in Germany with its 5 GW of new onshore, and was also true for the UK and France.”
Seven European Union Member States had a record year in 2017, with Germany installing a record 6.6 GW, the UK 4.3 GW, France 1.7 GW, Finland 577 MW (megawatts), Belgium 476 MW, Ireland 426 MW, and Croatia 147 MW.
The year also represented record investments for future wind projects, with 11.5 GW worth of projects reaching Final Investment Decision — 9 GW worth of onshore and 2.5 GW worth of offshore. The actual value of these investments was down 19%, however, at €22.3 billion (€14.8 billion onshore and €7.5 billion offshore). This is, of course, good news in a way, considering that investors and developers are getting more bang for their buck. The flipside, however, is that investment levels could remain the same with the focus switching to increased capacity.
The record 2017 helped push cumulative figures up to impressive heights, with total installed wind capacity in Europe of 169 GW — 153 GW worth of onshore wind and another 16 GW of offshore. Narrowing in, Germany continues to lead the way with 56 GW worth of wind energy capacity installed, followed by Spain with 23 GW, the UK with 19 GW, and France with 14 GW. Wind therefore accounts for 18% of power generation capacity across Europe, the second largest form of generation following closely after natural gas.
However, despite a record year in 2017 and strong figures overall, the future remains cloudy.
“And despite the strong figures the medium and longer term outlook for wind is uncertain,” Giles Dickson explained.
“The transition to auctions has been messier than we hoped. And crucially we lack clarity from many Governments on their ambitions for renewables post-2020. Countries need to start clarifying how much wind energy they want to deploy in the future. This will give visibility to the industry, allowing us to plan ahead and reduce costs. And it will allow others such as Transmission System Operators to plan the necessary infrastructure build-out. The wind industry won’t invest in Europe’s economy if the market prospects are not there. Countries now have the chance to turn their National Energy & Climate Plans into investment brochures by committing to ambitious wind volumes.
“It’s now clear given the recent expansion of renewables and the rapidly falling costs that Europe can deliver on a 35% renewables target for 2030. A 35% target is not just affordable, it’s economically desirable. It’s what the European Parliament wants. The Commission seem to support a higher target. Member States now need to recognise the social and economic benefits of more ambition. The wind industry has shown it can deliver. Now we need policy-makers to deliver as well.”
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