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Fossil Fuels Finally Taking a Back Seat to Wind

Wind’s potential to fuel the next economy is no longer speculation, but rather fact. According to new research by Research & Markets, energy statistics from Denmark and a pledge made by the UK government to phase out coal by 2025, fossil fuels are officially on the decline.

The global market for wind turbines is rapidly expanding, as indicated by a new study from Research & Markets, which predicts annual industry growth of 6.7 percent to 2022. The report presents a comprehensive analysis of the current wind turbine market in four regions — North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific (APAC) and Rest of the World (ROW) — and its future direction.

The research examines current technology trends and analyzes data from 150 leading wind energy companies around the globe, including manufacturers of wind turbines and their components and national wind power organizations. Other factors such as changing government regulations, rising energy costs and new innovations are also reviewed.

Research & Markets’ research values the current market at $50 billion, a number that is expected to grow to $71.2 billion over the next four years. The APAC region holds a dominant $19.6 billion share of the market. This is largely attributed to the efforts underway in China to transition away from fossil fuels. With its 100,000 turbines, the country holds a 34 percent share of global installed capacity.

Air pollution still poses a considerable threat to human and environmental health in China and the government is beginning to recognize the power of renewables in driving down dangerous emissions and particulate matter. Paired with the rollout of new regulations restricting the use of coal, wind power has proved an effective tool in controlling air pollution. However, still more must be done to continue the downward trend.

While Europe has an advanced renewables market — to the point where subsidies are no longer needed to fuel a low-carbon future in countries such as Denmark — North America boasts the second-largest market for wind power. The region represents one-fifth of the global market and 16.9 percent of the world’s installed capacity. The North American market is currently worth $10.5 billion and is poised to increase to $15.3 billion by 2022.

In light of recent policies in the US promoting the continued use of coal and other emissions-producing fossil fuels, the growth projections made by Research & Markets are certainly reassuring. With its potential to create jobs, generate new economic opportunities and reduce carbon emissions, wind power is increasingly being viewed by businesses, investors and utilities for what it truly is: a smart business move.

Meanwhile, new statistics published by Danish energy organization Dansk Energi illustrate the country’s increasing reliance on wind power as a major source of electricity.

The data showed that in 2017 alone, wind turbines produced around 14,700 GWh of electricity or the equivalent of 43.6 percent of Denmark’s total electricity consumption. Research further revealed that wind capacity has doubled over the past two decades to approximately 5.3 GW. This is despite a decline in the number of wind turbines in Denmark, indicating a considerable advancement in turbine efficiency and technology.

By 2020, wind power is expected to provide 50 percent of Denmark’s electricity consumption, with renewables as a whole constituting 80 percent of the country’s electricity mix.

Government support in the form of investment and favorable regulatory frameworks, as well as an ideal climate, have allowed wind power to thrive in Denmark. Danish utility Ørsted has been at the forefront of the shift, helping the country cut its CO2 emissions in half with its five respective offshore wind farms scattered across Denmark. The largest wind farm, Anholt, consists of 111 wind turbines with a total capacity of 400 MW — the equivalent of one million people’s annual power consumption.

Further illustrating the case for wind, is a new commitment from the UK government to ban the use of coal in electricity production from 2025.

As part of its pledge, the government has set an emissions limit of 450 grams of CO2 for each kilowatt-hour of electricity produced and will require coal plants to install carbon capture technology in order to continue operating. Those that fail to do so will face closure. Thermal power plants will be allowed to continue operating as backup generation if using lower-carbon gas.

According to data from the National Grid, 2017 marked the first time since the Industrial Revolution that the UK used no coal-fired electricity during a 24-hour period. Between Christmas and New Year’s Day, over a fifth of the UK’s power supply came from wind farms. A marked shift is underway as low-carbon sources become increasingly more cost competitive with fossil fuel generation.

However, environmental NGO ClientEarth doesn’t believe the government’s latest commitment goes far enough.

“The Government has kept to its commitment to phase out unabated coal generation by 2025, but we aren’t convinced that this alone merits its claims to global leadership. Not only are other countries imposing more ambitious sunset dates, we are concerned that the door is left wide open for investments in new, long-term gas capacity, locking us into another generation of fossil fuel power,” said Sam Bright, an energy lawyer at ClientEarth.

“We need to see the clearest possible messages from Government on what the clean energy future will look like — beyond coal has to mean beyond gas too.”