Sustainable Energy

Offshore wind set to be a $1 trillion business by 2040, the IEA says

Key Points
  • According to the IEA's Offshore Wind Outlook 2019, investment in the sector last year neared $20 billion, compared to under $8 billion in 2010.
  • A drop in costs, supportive governments and technological innovations will help to drive progress.
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Offshore wind looks set to become a $1 trillion business by 2040, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said Friday, with global capacity set for a 15-fold increase.

According to the IEA's Offshore Wind Outlook 2019, last year investment in the sector neared $20 billion, compared to under $8 billion in 2010.

With today's investment plans and policies, the IEA said the offshore market would grow by 13% annually, "passing 20 GW of additions per year by 2030." This growth needs capital spending of $840 billion across the next two decades.

According to the IEA, if worldwide goals relating to climate and sustainability are to be met then additions in capacity will need to come near to 40 GW a year during the 2030s, which would nudge cumulative investment to more than $1.2 trillion.

A drop in costs, supportive governments and technological innovations would help to drive progress, the IEA said.

Global offshore wind capacity currently stands at 23 GW, according to the IEA, with 80% of this based in Europe, a world leader in the sector. The agency added that around 150 new offshore projects were slated for completion during the next five years.

"In the past decade, two major areas of technological innovation have been game-changers in the energy system by substantially driving down costs: the shale revolution and the rise of solar PV," Fatih Birol, the IEA's executive director, said in a statement Friday. "And offshore wind has the potential to join their ranks in terms of steep cost reduction."

Europe, China lead the way 

At the moment, capacity in the European Union is nearly 20 GW and if current policy is maintained this could increase to almost 130 GW by 2040, the IEA said. If goals on carbon-neutrality are met, it will rise further, hitting approximately 180 GW. 

China has the potential to become a major player in the sector. The IEA said that offshore wind capacity there would hit 110 GW by 2040, up from 4 GW today. Again, if policies are shifted to "meet global sustainable energy goals" capacity could exceed 170 GW.

"Offshore wind currently provides just 0.3% of global power generation, but its potential is vast," the IEA's Birol said.

"More and more of that potential is coming within reach, but much work remains to be done by governments and industry for it to become a mainstay of clean energy transitions," he added.

Bigger wind farms, bigger turbines 

The last few years have seen a number of large-scale offshore wind projects come online. When completed in 2020 the Hornsea One project will generate enough energy to power one million homes, according to Danish energy firm Orsted. Located off the coast of Yorkshire, the scheme will have a total capacity of 1.2 GW and use 174 wind turbines.

The size of turbines is getting bigger, too. In September 2018, MHI Vestas Offshore Wind launched the first commercially available double digit turbine, the V164-10.0 MW. It has 80-meter long blades which weigh 35 tons each, and a tip height of around 187 meters.

GE Renewable Energy is also developing a large turbine, the Haliade-X 12 MW. It will have a capacity of 12 megawatts, a height of 260 meters and a blade length of 107 meters. The company has repeatedly described it as "the world's largest offshore wind turbine."