The significance of wind energy in Europe's power production has grown steadily since the 1980s. What started with the establishment of the first wind farms in the late 20th century has now resulted in wind power contributing 17 percent to Europe's total electricity consumption in 2022.
The concept behind wind power is straightforward: the force of the wind causes the turbine blades to rotate, and this motion is then converted into electricity. With governments and energy corporations facing mounting pressure to shift from fossil fuels to clean energy sources, wind power assumes a critical role.
Pawe? Czy?ak, a senior energy and climate data analyst at the think tank Ember, asserts, "Wind power is arguably the most crucial technology for decarbonization in Europe, serving as a cost-effective and potentially abundant domestic electricity source capable of replacing volatile imported fossil fuels."
Which European countries are spearheading the transition to wind power?
Historically, Denmark, Germany, and the UK have taken the lead and continue to dominate the industry.
According to data from WindEurope, Denmark claimed the top position last year, with the highest contribution of wind power to energy consumption (55 percent). Ireland followed closely in second place (34 percent), with the UK ranking third (28 percent) and Germany fourth (26 percent).
When it comes to upcoming installations, Germany remains at the forefront, although other countries are catching up. Sweden and Finland have outperformed Germany in onshore wind power, while the UK boasts the strongest offshore wind market by a significant margin.
One of the key factors contributing to the success of these countries is their stable legislation and clear targets for wind energy. Czy?ak emphasizes, "The main lesson we can learn from countries like Denmark, Germany, and the UK is the necessity of having a clear and consistent strategy with ambitious targets. This approach ensures that all other policies, spatial planning, permitting, and grid planning align harmoniously with the overarching goal."
In addition to favorable policies, a robust industrial presence plays a crucial role in advancing wind power. Po Wen Cheng, head of wind energy at the University of Stuttgart, explains that countries like Germany, Denmark, and Spain possess strong manufacturing industries with specialized companies focusing on wind turbine production and related technologies. On the other hand, the Netherlands and Belgium have thriving offshore and marine operation industries, leading to the development of innovative technologies for offshore wind energy.
The advent of floating wind technology, which involves turbines not anchored to the seabed, has ushered in a new era for wind power in Europe. It has enabled the exploration of deeper waters, unlocking greater potential for wind energy in countries such as Portugal, Spain, and Greece.
Since the 1980s, Europe has made remarkable progress, transforming its wind industry into a substantial contributor to its power grid. However, there is still a considerable distance to cover in order to achieve its 2030 targets.