Wind energy provided 14% of the European Union’s electricity last year, according to figures published Thursday by the region’s wind energy trade body, WindEurope, with 11.7 gigawatts (GW) of new capacity added, including 2.65 GW of offshore wind.
The growth of wind energy in Europe has been a mainstay for the global wind energy industry and as growth in capacity and the use of ever more powerful wind turbines continue to drive up wind energy’s share of the electricity mix, wind energy is solidifying its position as the dominant source of new power in Europe, boasting 178.8 GW of capacity as of the end of 2018.
According to WindEurope’s “Wind Energy In Europe In 2018” report published Thursday, wind energy accounted for 49% of all new power generation added in Europe in 2018 — however, the capacity increase of 11.7 GW was down 33% on 2017, the lowest on record since 2011. Net additions, taking into account the 400 megawatts (MW) of capacity which was decommissioned in 2018, amounted to 11.3 GW.
“Wind energy now provides 14% of the EU’s electricity, up from 12% in one year,” said WindEurope CEO Giles Dickson. “More and more people and businesses are benefitting from the clean and affordable power that wind delivers. But beneath the surface, many things are not right. Last year was the worst year for new wind energy installations since 2011. Growth in onshore wind fell by over half in Germany and collapsed in the UK. And 12 EU countries didn’t install a single wind turbine last year.”
Germany’s capacity additions in 2018 were down by over half due to “poorly designed” auctions — which WindEurope believe have now been “sorted” — and problems with permitting which, as was highlighted in the country’s most recent onshore wind tender, remain ongoing with little relief in sight.
“This is now the 3rd German onshore wind auction in a row that’s been under-subscribed,” explained Giles Dickson, speaking in response to the tender. “It’s clear the permitting process is not fit for purpose. It’s taking longer and longer to get a permit. The Bundesländer are reluctant to identify new locations for wind farms. And even if wind farms do get a permit, many then get caught up in legal disputes, which is pushing up costs.”
“We’re certainly hopeful that things will change in Germany,” WindEurope spokesperson Andrew Canning added in response to my request for comment. “The causes of the problems are clear enough now. We’re now looking to the Federal Government and the States to take action to deal with these problems.”
Contributing further to the European Union’s lacklustre year for onshore wind was the role of the outgoing United Kingdom, suffering under the burden of a catastrophically mismanaged Brexit, and which has essentially blocked onshore wind energy from competing in its government-backed Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme, causing new installation figures in 2018 to fall by nearly 80%.
Highlighting a larger-scale problem, however, is the fact that Germany and the UK nevertheless remained the two largest installers of new wind energy, with Germany accounting for 29% of all new installations — despite the fact its own installations were down 49% — and the UK accounting for 16%.
Wind energy now accounts for 14% of the European Union’s electricity, with Denmark boasting the highest share of wind in its electricity mix in 2018 with 41%, followed by Ireland with 28% and Portugal with 24%.
2018 was also a record year for new wind capacity financed, with 17 GW of future projects reaching Final Investment Decision (FID), made up of 13 GW of onshore wind and 4.2 GW of offshore wind — 45% more than in 2017 but only 20% more in terms of euros invested, highlighting once again the fact that wind energy costs are falling dramatically.
“Investments in future capacity were quite good last year thanks to the UK, Spain, Sweden – and thanks also to the further expansion of offshore wind,” said WindEurope’s Dickson. “But the outlook for new investments is uncertain. There are structural problems in permitting, especially in Germany and France. And with the noble exception of Lithuania and despite improvements in Poland, there’s a lack of ambition in Central and Eastern Europe.
“The 2030 National Energy & Climate Plans are a chance to put things right. But the draft Plans are badly lacking in detail: on policy measures, auction volumes, how to ease permitting and remove other barriers to wind investments, and how to expand the grid. Governments need to sort this out before they finalise the Plans this year.”
WindEurope published a deeper dive into the region’s offshore wind industry earlier this month, which was covered here.
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