• 2019 was the biggest growth year to date for offshore wind energy.
  • Despite COVID-19, industry body GWEC predicts strong growth in 2020, and substantial job creation over the next decade.
  • China shows biggest growth rates, with other Asian economies also rising.
  • Europe continues to lead in overall offshore capacity.

Offshore wind energy is enjoying a boom time. Policy targets, falling costs, smarter operations and more powerful wind turbines have driven its rapid adoption – initially in Europe and more recently in Asia and the US.

Installation of offshore wind energy farms has seen a surge in Europe and China
Installation of offshore wind energy farms has seen a surge in Europe and China
Image: GWEC Market Intelligence, June 2020

2019 was the best year in history for the offshore wind sector, with installed capacity now topping 29 gigawatts globally.

Europe still leads in terms of overall offshore wind energy capacity, but momentum has been building for some years in Asia-Pacific and the US. China recorded the highest number of new installations in 2019.

This is according to a new report by the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), which also finds that offshore wind has been less affected by the global pandemic than other sections of the energy market.

GWEC expects a further 6.6 GW to be installed in 2020 – more than in the previous year – despite the downturn. The report also predicts that the sector will create 900,000 jobs over the next 10 years, suggesting that the sector could be a major contributor to a 'green' economic recovery.

Global offshore wind energy growth to 2030
Global offshore wind energy growth to 2030.
Image: GWEC Market Intelligence, June 2020

Europe continues to lead offshore wind energy market – but Asia is biting at its heels

Today, Europe is the largest market for offshore wind energy, with its 22 GW making up 75% of total global installations. It's set to continue this leadership role, targeting up to 450 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2050. This will be driven by installations in the UK, Netherlands, France, Germany, Denmark and Poland.

By 2030, China is expected to have added 52 GW of new capacity. Other markets in Asia will scale up offshore wind too, with Taiwan expected to install 5.5 GW by 2025 and an additional 10 GW by 2035. Viet Nam, Japan and South Korea are expected to install 5.2 GW, 7.2 GW and 12 GW respectively.

Global offshore wind energy growth to 2030 in Europe.
Global offshore wind energy growth to 2030 in Europe.
Image: GWEC Market Intelligence, June 2020

The roll-out of offshore wind energy farms in North America, meanwhile, is predicted to accelerate from around 2024. The region currently has just 30 MW of offshore wind capacity, but GWEC anticipates that it will add 23 GW by 2030. This growth will be almost completely in the US, with only 1% forecast to come from Canada.

As a result of these trends, Europe’s leadership is set to drop from 75% of global installed capacity to 48% by 2030.

Global offshore wind energy growth to 2030 in North America.
Global offshore wind energy growth to 2030 in North America.
Image: GWEC Market Intelligence, June 2020

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the transition to clean energy?

Moving to clean energy is key to combating climate change, yet in the past five years, the energy transition has stagnated.

Energy consumption and production contribute to two-thirds of global emissions, and 81% of the global energy system is still based on fossil fuels, the same percentage as 30 years ago. Plus, improvements in the energy intensity of the global economy (the amount of energy used per unit of economic activity) are slowing. In 2018 energy intensity improved by 1.2%, the slowest rate since 2010.

Effective policies, private-sector action and public-private cooperation are needed to create a more inclusive, sustainable, affordable and secure global energy system.

Benchmarking progress is essential to a successful transition. The World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index, which ranks 115 economies on how well they balance energy security and access with environmental sustainability and affordability, shows that the biggest challenge facing energy transition is the lack of readiness among the world’s largest emitters, including US, China, India and Russia. The 10 countries that score the highest in terms of readiness account for only 2.6% of global annual emissions.

To future-proof the global energy system, the Forum’s Shaping the Future of Energy and Materials Platform is working on initiatives including, Systemic Efficiency, Innovation and Clean Energy and the Global Battery Alliance to encourage and enable innovative energy investments, technologies and solutions.

Additionally, the Mission Possible Platform (MPP) is working to assemble public and private partners to further the industry transition to set heavy industry and mobility sectors on the pathway towards net-zero emissions. MPP is an initiative created by the World Economic Forum and the Energy Transitions Commission.

Is your organisation interested in working with the World Economic Forum? Find out more here.

Floating power rising

Technically, the expanding size and generation capacity of offshore wind energy turbines has contributed significantly to the attractiveness and commercial viability of these power plants in the sea.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), moving into deeper waters using floating – rather than fixed – wind turbines has the potential to meet the world’s electricity demand 11 times over by 2040. For this to happen, though, costs will have to fall and governments will need to engage with developing technologies and approaches.

Floating offshore wind energy installations 2019-2030.
Floating offshore wind energy installations 2019-2030.
Image: GWEC Market Intelligence, June 2020

The GWEC report suggests that at least 6.2 GW of floating wind will be installed over the next decade, building on the 65.7 MW that exists today.

At present, the UK, Portugal and Japan lead the market in total floating installations, with South Korea, France and Norway forecast to take over the top places by 2030. GWEC expects floating wind farms to account for 6% of global new installations by the end of the decade.

Smoothing the path for the energy transition

Now considered a mature market with a growing global following, offshore wind energy is set to become a key pathway for the energy transition – and a $1 trillion industry by 2040.