Europe has enough untapped onshore wind capacity to power entire world

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Credit: XXLPhoto

If 11 million turbines were installed across Europe the continent would have enough wind capacity to power the world | Credit: XXLPhoto

New study from the University of Sussex and Aarhus University finds Europe could produce 100 times more wind power than it does currently

If Europe installed as many wind turbines as possible the continent would be able to produce enough clean electricity to power the whole world.

That is the eye-catching conclusion of a new study released yesterday by the University of Sussex and Aarhus University, which concludes Europe could produce 100 times more energy than it currently does through onshore wind farms if it built turbines on all the suitable sites across the continent.

Using spatial analysis of wind atlases, the researchers identified more than three times the onshore wind potential in Europe than previous studies, even when allowing for factors such as houses, roads, restricted areas such as military bases, and terrains unsuited to wind energy technology.

Building on all the identified sites would expand Europe’s onshore wind capacity to 52.5TW, equivalent to about 1MW of capacity for every 16 European citizens, the researchers concluded.

Benjamin Sovacool, professor of energy policy at the University of Sussex and a report co-author, said the aim of the study was not to argue all the sites should be developed, but to highlight the huge scale of untapped wind potential across the continent.

“Our study suggests that the horizon is bright for the onshore wind sector and that European aspirations for a 100 per cent renewable energy grid are within our collective grasp technologically,” he said. “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.”

According to the researchers, fully building out Europe’s onshore wind capacity would mean installing more than 11 million additional wind turbines, across almost five million square kilometres of terrain. The hypothetical fleet of turbines could generate around 497 exajoules (EJ) of power, easily meeting the 430EJ of global energy demand expected by 2050.

In particular, Turkey, Russia, and Norway have significant potential to expand their onshore wind capacity, the researchers said, with the potential for more than 6.2MW of capacity per square kilometre.

Mark Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, said the study could be a major help for countries when planning how and where to deploy onshore wind most efficiently, “thereby easing the way for commitments be these countries to move entirely to clean, renewable energy for all purposes”.

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