Wind Energy is Crucial for Addressing Climate Change

Worldwide CO2 emissions rose by 1.4 percent to 31.6 billion tons in 2012, according to estimates from the International Energy Agency (IEA). Scientists say global average temperature rise needs to be limited to below 2 degrees Celsius this century to prevent devastating climate effects like crop failure and melting glaciers. However, the IEA said the data shows the world is on a path to an average temperature rise of between 3.6 and 5.3 degrees Celsius: "Global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 are projected to be nearly 4 billion tons higher than a level consistent with attaining the 2 degree target, highlighting the scale of the challenge still to be tackled just in this decade", the agency said.

The global power sector is the largest single source of emissions, accounting for about 40% of global CO2 emissions. The window for keeping global average temperatures below 2° C is rapidly closing and a business-as-usual scenario is likely to lead to warming of over 3.5° C by 2050.

Global emissions need to peak and begin to decline before 2020, and a dramatic increase in renewable energy deployment is urgently required to help make this happen. In the short term the three key options available for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions include a rapid deployment of renewable energy, primarily wind power; escalation of efforts towards promoting energy efficiency and conservation; and fuel switching from coal to gas.

Scaling up wind power is crucial to combating climate change especially for the following reasons:

Wind power is quick to install

Given the crucial timeframe up to 2020 during which global emission must start to decline, the speed of deployment of wind farms is of key importance in combating climate change. Wind power deployment is measured in months, where as conventional power plants can take any where from 10 to 20 years. A half completed wind farm is just a smaller power plant, starting to generate power and income as soon as the first turbines are connected to the grid.

Wind power generation provides clean electricity

Widespread wind development addresses climate change by providing a non-polluting source of energy that displaces greenhouse gas emissions from conventional power generation. By 2020, GWEC projections suggest that wind power along would save 9.25 billion tons of CO2 every year. On average, each kWh of wind power generated avoids 600 grams of CO2 by displacing the need for the generation of the same unit of electricity from conventional energy sources (coal, oil or gas).

Wind power does not emit pollutants

Wind energy is a viable alternative to burning polluting fossil fuel; it does not emit carbon dioxide or other air pollutants. Within three to six months of operation, a wind turbine has offset all emissions from its construction, to run with virtually zero emissions for the remainder of its twenty-year lifetime.

Wind power generation has a minimal water usage footprint

Water scarcity is now a pressing issue in many parts of the world, and this will be exacerbated by climate change in the coming decades. Wind power generation actively conserves water and can help alleviate water shortages. While conventional fossil fuel and nuclear power plants, which make up 78% of global electricity production, use water for cooling and condensing the steam that drives the turbines, wind power generation requires practically no water. As a result, wind power can save more than 2,000 liters of water per MWh of produced electricity.


Further reading

GWEC Report on Wind and Climate Change

IPCC: Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation

Water/Energy/Climate Nexus