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Energy system facing fundamental changes

The International Energy Agency (IEA) expects the energy system to change fundamentally by 2030 compared to today. Even though it will be difficult to reach the 1.5 degree target, the triumph of clean energies can no longer be stopped. But how we will get there is an open question.

The climate crisis can only be tackled globally. But who currently has this foresight? (Picture: Pixabay)The climate crisis can only be tackled globally. But who currently has this foresight? (Picture: Pixabay)

The list of problems in the European wind industry is long: fluctuating demand, slow approval procedures, lack of raw materials, high inflation, inadequate auction models, lack of skilled workers. The list could be extended indefinitely. For this reason, the EU Commission felt compelled to act this week and presented the 'European Wind Power Action Plan', "which aims to ensure that the clean energy transition goes hand-in-hand with industrial competitiveness and that wind power continues to be a European success story.", as the EU put it.

With this plan, the EU wants to finally bring order into the chaos and at the same time take the wind out of the competitors' sails. Because time is pressing: By 2030, Europe actually wants to reach a share of renewable energy of at least 42.5 percent. The wind sector alone is to grow from 204 GW in 2022 to over 500 GW in 2030. And if possible, this should be done with locally produced wind turbines built and operated by European companies.

But the market is more competitive than ever. European companies are feeling increasing pressure from China, where the great race to catch up in the energy transition has begun in recent years. Chinese companies have long since topped the list of the largest wind turbine manufacturers, and new records in turbine size are being reported all the time. Only this week, Mingyang Energy announced that it is working on a 22 MW turbine, and just a few weeks ago, CSSC Haizhuang unveiled a new prototype, the 18 MW H260-18MW wind turbine.

China dominates global wind turbine orders in Q4 2022 (Image: Wood Mackenzie)

And the US is also flooring the gas pedal in the green transformation of its economy. After the lost years under Donald Trump, President Joe Biden ensured that the Inflation Reduction Act introduced last year would spur domestic production of green energy technology. A measure that has since proven to be a unique success story.

The IRA contributes to what the International Energy Agency (IEA) this week painted for a 2030 scenario: The global energy system will fundamentally change by 2030. "The phenomenal rise of clean energy technologies such as solar, wind, electric cars and heat pumps is reshaping how we power everything from factories and vehicles to home appliances and heating systems," reads a full-bodied statement in the freshly published 'World Energy Outlook 2023'.

The IEA estimates that by 2030 there will be almost ten times as many electric cars on the road worldwide as there are today and three times more investment in new offshore wind projects than in new coal- and gas-fired power plants. All these increases are based solely on the current policies of governments around the world.

And that is precisely where the problem lies. For one thing, the calculations assume that all countries also meet their national energy and climate pledges on time and in full, which is currently not the case. And secondly, even then the target of a maximum global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius from the Paris Climate Agreement would be missed. Nevertheless, IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol is optimistic: "The transition to clean energy is happening worldwide and it’s unstoppable. It’s not a question of ‘if’, it’s just a matter of ‘how soon’ – and the sooner the better for all of us."

However, he is not so naïve as to hope that much will change: "Governments, companies and investors need to get behind clean energy transitions rather than hindering them. [...] Every country needs to find its own pathway, but international cooperation is crucial for accelerating clean energy transitions,” Dr Birol said. “In particular, the speed at which emissions decline will hinge in large part on our ability to finance sustainable solutions to meet rising energy demand from the world’s fast growing economies. This all points to the vital importance of redoubling collaboration and cooperation, not retreating from them."

With its action plan, the EU is trying to revive the European wind industry (Image: Pixabay).

Yet the appeal comes at a time that is further away from peaceful coexistence than ever before. In addition to the ongoing Russian war against Ukraine, Hamas' attack on Israel has brought the danger of a conflagration in the Middle East within reach. And programmes like Europe's and the USA's aimed at protectionist economics do not help to make it seem realistic that the upcoming world climate summit COP28 will be crowned with success.

Diplomacy and politics matter now more than ever. Søren Lassen, head of offshore wind research at Wood Mackenzie, makes it clear with the example of the stumbling offshore wind industry: "The industry is at an inflection point. Will politicians be willing to provide the support that offshore wind needs? If they are, the industry could be in a stronger place than ever. If not, it’s going to be in a very tight spot."

Katrin Radtke
IEA, Europe, EU, USA, China, wind industry, turning point, energy system, renewable energy, 2030, climate crisis

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