wind farmEnlarge Photo
While homeowners are more familiar with photovoltaic solar panels, large-scale wind power is an increasingly important part of the growth in renewable energy.
For the first time, the total installed capacity of wind energy in Europe now exceeds the total output of electric powerplants fueled with coal.
And that imbalance is likely to grow as more wind generation comes online over the next decade, both on land and offshore.
The statistics, collated by WindEurope, are laid out in a blog post this week by Navigant Research.
Total new wind-generating capacity installed in 28 EU member countries last year added up to 12.5 gigawatts, with a bit more than 10 percent of that located offshore.
The 2016 number was down slightly on the previous year's total, but that reflected a fast push to complete wind projects in 2015 before Germany reduced its incentives as of January 1 last year.
Coal, by Flicker user oatsy40 (Used Under CC License)Enlarge Photo
Total installed wind capacity in Europe is now up to 154 gigawatts, though of course capacity is generally larger than actual utilitzation for renewable sources.
Still, wind provided more than 10 percent of Europe's electricity last year, and renewables—both wind and solar—grew enough to allow older fossil-fuel plants to be decommissioned altogether.
Europe's total coal generating capability now stands at 152 gigawatts, and will almost surely fall further in coming years as countries work to reduce the greenhouse-gas emissions of the generating sector.
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Fully 86 percent of the 24.5 gigawatts of new generating capacity installed in Europe last year was renewable.
Total investment in wind generation last year was $30 billion, and Germany led the field with 44 percent of the total new wind capacity installed.
For the decade and a half since 2000, the 342.3 gigawatts of new capacity in wind (41.7 percent) and solar power (29.5 percent), along with natural gas (28.8 percent) allowed retirement of a like amount of generation from fuel oil, coal, and nuclear.
Photovoltaic solar power field at Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, TennesseeEnlarge Photo
Analysts, including those at Navigant, expect offshore wind to represent the bulk of new capacity going forward.
The U.K., for one, has eliminated financial incentives for wind installations on land, but retained them for offshore wind farms—whose costs have already fallen below levels not expected until 2020.
While it can be hard to generalize about grid mix in Europe as a whole, Germany, the U.K., and much of Eastern Europe carry a legacy of largely coal-fired generation due to their natural deposits of the fossil fuel.
Germany has led the switch to renewable energy over the last decade, although France points to its nuclear power—which provides more than half the nation's electricity—as another low-carbon technology.