Researchers found that Europe has 100 times the onshore windfarm capacity than it currently produces, with possibly enough to power the world.
While it remains clear that more renewable energy is the target of almost all European nations, there is still a long way to go before the continent is totally weaned off fossil fuels. Now, researchers from the University of Sussex and Aarhus University in Denmark have conducted a major study to show that Europe easily has the capacity to produce renewable energy through onshore windfarms not only for itself, but the entire world.
In a paper published to Energy Policy, the authors calculated that Europe’s renewable energy supply would be enough to power the planet until 2050. If all of the continent’s windfarm capacity was realised, it would total 52.5 terawatts (TW), the equivalent of 1MW for every 16 people.
The researchers also calculated that 11m additional wind turbines could be theoretically installed across 5m sq kilometres, which would generate 497 exajoules. In particular, Russia and Norway were found to have the greatest potential, but large parts of western Europe are also favourable because of good wind speeds and flat areas.
Responding to critics
“The study is not a blueprint for development but a guide for policymakers indicating the potential of how much more can be done and where the prime opportunities exist,” said the paper’s co-author, Benjamin Sovacool.
“Obviously, we are not saying that we should install turbines in all the identified sites but the study does show the huge wind power potential right across Europe, which needs to be harnessed if we’re to avert a climate catastrophe.”
The data was collected through spatial analysis of wind atlases based on geographical information systems (GIS), which showed almost half (46pc) of Europe’s territory would be suitable for onshore windfarms. Using advanced GIS data to include exclusionary factors such as land being used for housing or restricted for military use, the results identified three times more onshore wind potential than previous studies.
Peter Enevoldsen of Aarhus University added: “Critics will no doubt argue that the naturally intermittent supply of wind makes onshore wind energy unsuitable to meet the global demand.
“But even without accounting for developments in wind turbine technology in the upcoming decades, onshore wind power is the cheapest mature source of renewable energy, and utilising the different wind regions in Europe is the key to meet the demand for a 100pc renewable and fully decarbonised energy system.”