The temptation for retrospection is difficult to resist as we head into a new year and a new decade. For the wind industry, such retrospection delivers a justified sense of pride.
When I joined the wind industry over 25 years ago there were only a handful of small commercial wind farms in the UK, and the climate change and renewables goals of European policy vision focussed on 2020 as their target year.
That date felt like it was a lifetime away, as did a future where wind energy was a significant and low-cost part of the electricity system. We had an uphill battle ahead in terms of attracting sustained policy support, developing new technology and reducing costs, not to mention proving ourselves as an industry to politicians and the public at large.
It’s now (almost, incredibly!) 2020 and we have over 630 GW of installed wind capacity globally. Last weekend, the UK saw a peak of over 16 GW of wind on the grid, supplying over 45% of instantaneous demand and there are consecutive days when wind provides more than any other source of generation, including gas. The largest commercially available turbines have capacities of 12 MW. Wind energy, both onshore and offshore, is universally popular with the public. Governments around the world are initiating and pursuing offshore programmes as they look to gain from the environmental and economic benefits that the industry can deliver.
I find it inspirational how much has been achieved in what, with hindsight, feels like such a relatively short period of time. These achievements, and the speed at which they have been delivered, should also give us a sense of optimism that as an industry we can kick on from here. The increased focus on the climate emergency and plans for net-zero and decarbonisation means that we are no longer pushing uphill – the market is pulling, and then some.
Wind generation has moved from being a solution for the curious to a key part of the energy mix for the pragmatic. As well as being essential to keep the lights on at lowest cost, wind is also seen as essential to reduce global carbon emissions. For example, Europe needs 450GW of offshore wind by 2050 to hit its Paris de-carbonisation commitments. Our recent keynote report for WindEurope, ‘Our energy, our future’ examined the best way to achieve that.
The progress in both awareness of the climate emergency and the role for wind energy have not happened by coincidence. Both have been the result of the determination, innovation and pragmatism of people, companies and organisations committed to progress and changing the world for the better. That should give the world in general, and the wind industry in particular, renewed hope and vitality as we enter a new decade. A new decade that will see both increased opportunities and challenges on a global scale.