Climate Progress yesterday pointed to data on European wind power growth, including an estimate for 2010. This date comes mostly from a European Wind Energy Association report. I was interested to compare this to fossil fuel usage in Europe to see how much progress is being made towards a fossil-fuel free future. First I plot here the total installed nameplate capacity of wind power, as well as the new addition each year:
Looking at the annual growth rate in the installed capacity, that gives the following:
Growth is slowing down (as one would expect: it's always much harder to grow a big thing than a small thing), but the second derivative is dropping also - growth is not slowing as fast as it did.
To compare this to fossil fuel use, I computed the oil, coal, and natural gas usage for the EU-15: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. That data looks as follows, expressed in millions of barrels/day of oil equivalent.
(Here I used BP data and converted from MTOE to MBOE via a factor of 7).
Comparing the wind power to the fossil fuel usage in a fair way is not straightforward. On the one hand, windmills produce below the nameplate capacity a lot of the time, with capacity factors often in the range of 20-30% (I don't have good Europe wide statistics). On the other hand, at least the output is electricity which can generally be put directly to use with 80-90% efficiency after accounting for transmission and conversion losses. Fossil fuel power plants and internal combustion engines have thermodynamic efficiencies that can range in the ballpark of 15%-60%, and if it's a power plant, there is then the same electricity transmission and conversion issue.
Since I don't have the data to account for these things fully, I just directly divide the wind power by the fossil fuel usage to produce a "Simple Wind/Fossil Ratio". I would guess that favors the wind slightly - that the average wind capacity factor is lower than the average fossil fuel conversion efficiency), but it will get us in the right ballpark.
That ratio looks like this:
Europe is up to wind being about 5% of fossil fuel consumption.
If we then project that out, assuming as a very rough approximation that growth from here on out is at an average of 10%/year, we would get:
Note - this is not a forecast, it's a rough extrapolation to get the general scale of things. It seems to me unlikely that Europe is big enough to run entirely on wind power - it's not sufficiently above the synoptic scale, so a renewable Europe would probably have to run on a mix of renewables, and probably trade power with North Africa etc.
But still, it gives some sense of the scale of a possible European renewables build-out. It's not crazy to think of a fully renewable powered Europe by 2050, on the present rate of progress.