New global wind power life cycle emissions from 2020 to 2050 will hit 55 million tonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2) which is “a tiny fraction” of the 12,000 Mt of CO2 emitted by fossil-fuelled power plants in 2020, Wood Mackenzie says in a report.
The research and consultancy group, part of Verisk, projects that the installed wind power generation capacity globally will rise five-fold to 3.7 TW in the 30-year period.
“Wind power is the cleanest renewable power on life cycle emissions basis, and when compared to other technologies, it ranks second only to nuclear power. However, the latter’s capex costs can be two to three times more,” said principal analyst Robert Liew.
The life cycle emissions of wind come from the sourcing of raw materials, manufacturing, construction and end-of-life disposal. According to WoodMac’s analysis, raw materials extraction and manufacturing account for up to 86% of these emissions. In different parts of the world, there are projects to reduce the emissions associated with sourcing core materials such as steel and concrete, but this will take time. Whether the energy used in the manufacturing processes is low-carbon is also important. Wood Mackenzie says the emissions from turbines manufactured in developed countries, where grid power has a lower carbon intensity, could be up to 53% lower.
The transportation, installation, operations and maintenance (O&M), and decommissioning and disposal bring around 14% of wind power life cycle emissions. WoodMac estimates that up to 60% of transport and O&M emissions could be cut by the end of the decade as larger turbines result in fewer units and fewer trips to project sites needed, fuel mileage of onshore transportation is improving and the world is using more electric vehicles. Also, turbine technology advances are reducing the frequency of site visits and prolonging the life of components.