Europe: Wind power potential bigger than expected

Onshore wind energy in Europe could meet world energy needs by 2050

Even ashore, there is still a lot of untapped potential for wind energy in Europe, as a study shows. © Dar1930 / iStock
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100 times more than now: Europe could generate 52 terawatts of wind energy from land-based systems alone - that's equivalent to one megawatt of electricity per 16 inhabitants. According to a new study, around 46 percent of European land areas are suitable for wind power. Turkey, the Balkans, Russia and Norway, as well as large parts of Western Europe, have particularly great potential. Overall, there would be room for eleven million more wind turbines, as the researchers report.

The wind theoretically provides enough energy to power all humanity. Wind power is therefore regarded as an important component of the renewable energy supply. So far, wind turbines on land and at sea cover around twelve percent of the electricity demand in Europe. However, the trend is increasing, also thanks to falling asset prices.

However, wind power is not undisputed. Because wind turbines can have a significant impact on ecosystems and even become a death trap for bats and birds. In addition, many people find the presence of wind turbines annoying. For this reason, for example, many areas near settlements or forests in Germany are exempted from wind power.

Wind power potential of the European countries. University of Sussex / Aarhus University

Space for eleven million wind turbines

But how much wind energy could be gained in Europe despite such land restrictions? Peter Enevoldsen from Aarhus University and his colleagues have now determined this. For their study, they evaluated data on winds, landforms and other parameters using a geographic information system (GIS). They also included exclusion factors such as buildings, roads, restricted areas or unsuitable terrain.

The result: In Europe, 4.9 million square kilometers of land would theoretically be suitable for wind energy that is approximately 46 percent of the total area of ​​the continent. Theoretically, there would be room for around eleven million additional wind turbines. "Of course we are not saying that we should install wind turbines in all potentially suitable locations, " says Coautor Benjamin Sovacool of the University of Sussex. "But our study shows the enormous potential of wind energy across Europe." Ad

One megawatt per 16 Europ er

In concrete terms, the researchers put this potential into perspective: "In total, there is an unused wind power capacity of 52.5 terawatts in Europe that is one megawatt per 16 Europeans, " report Enevoldsen and his team. "This energy would be sufficient to cover the global energy needs of all sectors from now on until the year 2050." The wind power potential of Europe would thus be significantly greater than on the basis of earlier ones Studies accepted.

The researchers see the greatest potential in Turkey, the Balkans, Russia and Norway. But also parts of Western Europe are well suited for the expansion of onshore wind power because of the favorable winds and flat landscapes. In densely populated Central Europe, including Germany, there is only lower potential, as shown by their map.

"Key to decarbonization"

"Onshore wind power is the cheapest, technically mature source of renewable energy, " Enevoldsen says. "Using the various wind regions in Europe is therefore the key to decarbonising the energy system and achieving the goal of 100 percent renewable energy." Even if only a small part of Europe's potential for wind power is exploited, this could already succeed. (Energy Policy, 2019; doi: 10.1016 / j.enpol.2019.06.064)

Source: University of Sussex

- Nadja Podbregar