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Wind could power the world by 2040: What you need to know

·Finance reporter
·5-min read
Three wind turbines stand in the ocean. (Source: Getty)
Offshore wind farms could supply enough energy to meet the world's global needs by 2040. (Source: Getty)

The world’s pre-eminent energy policy advisory organisation says wind could power the entire world by 2040, but only if the untapped potential of offshore wind can be harnessed.

The International Energy Agency, which was formed in 1974 by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), has stated that offshore wind would unlock enough power to meet the world’s probable electrical needs in 2040 11 times over.

Offshore wind has rapidly become one of the core power-generation technologies in Europe over the past three decades, while Taiwan and the US have commissioned their first small projects.

And it could be set to hit Australia sooner than you might think. The Federal Government has just introduced legislation to parliament that would pave the way for our country’s first offshore wind farm to proceed.

The proposed Star of the South wind farm has a power capacity of 2.2 gigawatts - roughly equivalent to 242 million LED lamps - and is planned for a 496-square-kilometre area off the coast of Gippsland in Victoria.

Star of the South could supply up to 20 per cent of the state’s energy needs, equivalent to 1.2 million homes.

Why are we talking about wind power?

Methods of generating and supplying power to the planet’s 7.753 billion people is top of the agenda right now, with the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference, COP26, taking place in Glasgow.

When the summit began on Sunday, Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, told reporters the UN took a dim view of the worldwide progress in tackling climate change.

“Very frankly, we are not where we need to be and I think that's something that we need to be very honest about,” she said.

“Our assessment indicates around a 16 per cent increase of emissions by 2030, while we should be getting to a decrease of 45 per cent. That is a fact.”

The summit follows a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change earlier this year that confirmed human influence had warmed the planet’s climate “at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2,000 years”.

Offshore wind has the potential to play a significant role in the global shift towards greener and cleaner energy supplies, but despite advancements in technology and decreases in costs, it remains a minnow in terms of usage.

At the end of 2020, 61 per cent of the world’s energy was generated by fossil fuels. Wind made up just 5.9 per cent, and offshore wind accounted for just 0.3 per cent.

Exhaust rises from smokestacks in front of piles of coal in Texas. (Source: AP)
Fossil fuels remain the dominant source of energy on Earth. (Source: AP)

What is wind power?

Wind power, or wind energy, uses the force of wind to provide power supply. Wind turbines - those gigantic, often white and three-spoked behemoths that you sometimes see dotting the countryside - turn wind’s kinetic energy into more useful electrical energy.

The popular source of renewable energy - thanks to its negligible impact on the environment - has exploded in the past 20 years. At the end of 2019, 1,400 terawatt hours per year of wind energy was generated across the globe, compared with less than 50 TWh at the turn of the millennium.

Wind turbines are often clustered into wind farms, which are connected to an area’s power grid.

But while the slowly turning turbines you see in rural areas are the first thing that come to mind when you think of wind, it is actually offshore wind that is exciting energy experts the most.

Offshore wind power is supplied through wind farms built in bodies of water, where higher wind speeds are available, meaning greater electricity generation.

Two wind turbines stand in the ocean. (Source: Getty)
These wind turbines form part of the floating Hywind Scotland offshore wind farm. (Source: Getty)

At present, most offshore wind farms feature fixed wind turbines in relatively shallow water, but ‘floating’ offshore wind turbines - which can be installed further out in deeper water - present an attractive new option.

The world’s first floating wind turbine was installed in 2007. In 2017, Hywind Scotland was commissioned, becoming the first operational floating wind farm with a capacity of 30 MW.

California is also reported to be moving forward on plans to develop the US’s first floating offshore wind farms.

What’s happening in Australia and how can I support it?

Of the various different forms of renewable energy - including solar, marine, hydro, hydrogen, geothermal and biofuel - wind is Australia’s most common source.

Last year, wind supplied 35.9 per cent of the country's clean energy and 9.9 per cent of Australia's overall electricity.

Ten new wind farms were built, adding more than 1 GW of new capacity in 2020, making it the second consecutive record-breaking year for wind energy.

All that power was generated from onshore wind farms, meaning if proposed offshore wind farms like Star of the South are successful, it could pave the way for wind power to become Australia’s dominant source of energy.

The recently introduced legislation to the Australian parliament follows in the footsteps of Japan, which in 2019 passed a law allowing offshore turbines to operate for 30 years.

Supporting wind power projects via direct investment isn’t clear-cut, but the Clean Energy Council publishes resources on the renewable energy sector in Australia, while there are a handful of renewable stocks listed on the ASX.

Mercury NZ, for example, is an ASX-listed, New Zealand-based, 100 per cent renewable energy generator. It recently agreed to acquire all of Tilt Renewables’ New Zealand wind farms.

Tilt Renewables was listed on the ASX until August this year, when, in addition to Mercury NZ’s acquisitions, its Australian operations were acquired by Powering Australian Renewables, a partnership between energy giant AGL and QIC.

Genex, while mainly focused on solar, also has a wind project under development.

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