Among the avalanche of data, news and forecasts, we begin this year 2023 with a series of articles with which we will try to clarify the current situation of the different energy generation technologies at a national, European and global level, focusing in this article on energy. wind.
The use of wind resources dates back thousands of years in areas such as navigation. However, it is not until the end of the s. XIX when what is now considered the first automatically operating wind turbine to generate electricity was built.
The technological evolution from that first model is continuous, starting with only 12 kW and 8.5 meter blade length of the first wind turbine. Today there are machines, such as the H260-18MW turbine from the CSSC Haizhuang company, which reaches 18 MW of power and a blade length of 130 meters (in order to try to measure the possible production in a more illustrative way). of this machine, currently the largest wind turbine developed, indicate that a single unit could cover the annual electricity consumption of 40,000 homes). Large consolidated companies in the sector such as Vestas or Gamesa have wind turbines of up to 15 MW and with blade lengths of up to 118 meters. Technological development promotes the use of wind power with machines that are increasingly powerful and adapted to different environments, such as the offshore environment.
It should be noted that, despite the clear evolution that we showed in the previous point, where the size of the wind turbines and their production capacity have been increasing exponentially over the years, the basis of technological evolution continues to be the theory known as “Limit de Betz”, developed in the first half of the s. xx. The German physicist Albert Betz, author of this theory, establishes at 59% the maximum percentage of kinetic energy that can be converted into mechanical energy with a wind turbine, which is currently applicable.
This technological development has allowed, year after year, the installed power of renewables worldwide to increase. In 2021 we had approximately 3 TW installed globally, corresponding to 837 GW wind power. This capacity has grown, both due to the renewable aspect in general, and wind power in particular. Since 2010 the capacity has increased from 39 GW of wind power installed annually, to 93.6 GW of wind power installed per year (2021). The annual installed capacity worldwide has more than doubled in the last 10 years. Growth has been continuous and sustained, with an even stronger rebound in recent years.
At a European level, it has gone from accumulating 84.9 GW installed in 2010 to 222 GW in 2021. If we compare these data with our country, the accumulated installed capacity in Spain goes from 19.7 GW in 2010 to 28.3 GW in 2021, increasing growth by more than 40%.
Graph 1. Wind power installed in Spain from 2010 to 2021. Source: REE
The first electricity generation installations from wind energy in Spain date from the early 80s, being able to mention as an example an installation from 1984 in Girona, with a power of 120 kW distributed in 5 24 kW machines. In this long road of more than 35 years, our country has been positioned as the 5th in the world in terms of wind generation. Adding its own comparison, Norvento installed its first park in 2001 with a capacity of 20.46 MW and made up of 31 wind turbines, while one of the most recent parks (year 2019, within the wind engineering project, N6), has a power of 36 MW and made up of 10 wind turbines. This gives an image of the progress experienced by technology and the sector, in which Spain has been a pioneer along with other benchmarks such as Denmark.
According to data from 2019, the countries with the most installed wind power are China (with 237 GW), the United States (with 105 GW), Germany (with 61 GW), India (37 GW) and Spain (with 26 GW). A separate case is Denmark, which with an area of 43,000 km2 (similar to Extremadura) and 6 million inhabitants, has 7.2 GW installed. The coverage of its wind generation often reaches 100%, being a world benchmark in this regard.
Graph 2. Wind power installed in 2019 (MW). Source: GWEC
In Spain, the data for 2021 provided by AEE indicate that the installed wind power is 28,140 GW, covering 24% of the demand in our country, which amounts to a total of 256,462 GWh. Territorially, the distribution is led by Castilla y León (6.04 GW), followed by Aragón (4,435 GW) and Castilla la Mancha with (3,955 GW). Galicia accumulates 3,866 GW, being the fourth autonomous community nationwide.
Wind generation has special relevance for economic development:
- Contribution to GDP: on the one hand, with a contribution of 5,539 million euros to GDP in 2021, and more than 32,000 jobs, it is one of the main industrial benchmarks in the country. Spain consolidates itself on the podium of wind turbine exports in the world, rising to 5th place, only behind Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and China. The contribution of the energy industry goes beyond the merely industrial, and adds value at a technological level, guaranteeing energy independence and increasingly technological independence, supplying approximately a quarter of the electricity consumed in a year.
- Energy cost reduction: on the other hand, it is an economically competitive technology that helps to reduce the cost of energy. In 2022 we experience a reduction of 8,252 million euros in the wholesale market, resulting in a decrease in the bill of up to 31.25 €/MWh. The path that wind power has traveled has led to a virtuous cycle of production costs. A progression of greater installation of wind power, which in turn has led to an improvement in wind production processes, has led to lower costs. From 2010 to 2021, global costs have gone from approximately USD 2,042/kW to USD 1,325/kW, falling by 35%. These data correspond to onshore installations. Evaluating the same data in offshore facilities, these are reduced from 4,876 USD/kW to 2,858 USD/kW, down 41%.
In short, wind energy is one of the most mature technologies on the market, representing one of the main ways of generating electricity. The industry is critical for the energy transition, representing one of the best paths to decarbonization, in order to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) included in the 2030 Agenda and aimed at generating a better and more sustainable future for all with its fulfilment.