The sun doesn’t shine at night and the wind doesn’t blow continuously, which makes intermittency an obstacle to adding more solar and wind energy to the grid. But the IEA’s recent World Offshore Wind Outlook says that offshore wind is not subject to the same intermittency limitations as onshore wind and solar.
The IEA classifies offshore wind as a “variable baseload technology” owing to its high capacity factors and lower variability, as compared with onshore wind and solar PV. Put simply, offshore wind operates, on average, at a higher share of its maximum power output and with less fluctuations. As such, offshore wind can provide more stable power to the energy grid, just as fossil-fuelled plants do, and “has the potential to become a mainstay of the world’s power supply.”
“The report shows that, through its bulk production of green and affordable energy, offshore wind will be a cornerstone in the global green transition, and provides value to the energy system comparable to dispatchable plants, such as those running on coal or gas,” says Ulrik Stridbæk, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs at renewable energy company Ørsted. “As a baseload technology, offshore wind will play an increasingly significant role in eliminating carbon emissions and tackling climate change.”
Here are five key takeaways from the report:
1. Electricity to power the world: Offshore wind accounts for 0.3% of global electricity production today. Even if only confined to windy regions, within 60km from the shore, and in water no deeper than 60m, the worldwide offshore wind potential is up to 36,000 terawatt hours of renewable electricity a year. That would outstrip current global electricity demand of 23,000 terawatt hours. Offshore wind power could become the largest source of electricity generation in Europe after 2040.
2. USD 1 trillion business by 2040: Offshore wind power capacity is set to expand, with the market adding 20GW* or more of offshore wind per year, by 2030. Around 40GW of capacity would need to be added each year in the 2030s to meet global climate goals.
3. Variable baseload technology: Offshore wind is a variable renewable energy source, but it generates power at high and stable rates. Modern wind turbines make the most of available wind resources and generate electricity during almost all hours of the day and tend to produce more electricity during the winter months and monsoon season.
4. Long term vision: Governments must set a long-term vision for offshore wind to ensure the necessary investments are made to allow the industry to grow. This will also help develop efficient supply chains in the industry, which are critical to delivering low-cost projects.
5. Onshore grid infrastructure: The success of offshore wind will depend on well-developed onshore grid infrastructure. That is essential for efficient integration of power production from offshore wind and to avoid offshore wind energy going unused.
Read the full report Offshore Wind Outlook 2019, which was funded by the governments of Denmark and Germany and developed in consultation with a selection of international experts including Ørsted.
*1GW of offshore wind is enough to power just over one million households in Europe, according to calculations made by Ørsted.