An analysis of all suitable sites for onshore wind farms across mainland Europe suggests that the continent has the potential to supply enough energy for the whole world until 2050.

The study, carried out by researchers based at the University of Sussex and Denmark’s Aarhus University claims that installing 11 million wind turbines over five million square kilometres of Europe could generate 497 exajoules (quintillion joules) of energy: enough to comfortably meet the expected global energy demand in 2050. Turkey, Russia and Norway have the greatest potential for future wind power, the researcher say.

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“Our study suggests that the horizon is bright for the onshore wind sector and that European aspirations for a 100 per cent renewable energy grid are within our collective grasp technologically,” said co-author Benjamin Sovacool, professor of energy policy at the University of Sussex. “Obviously, we are not saying that we should install turbines in all the identified sites but the study does show the huge wind power potential right across Europe which needs to be harnessed if we’re to avert a climate catastrophe.”

By analysing data from detailed global wind atlases, the team was able to rule out regions that were unsuitable due to the proximity of houses or roads, or restricted due to military or political reasons. Overall, they determined that around 46 per cent of Europe’s territory would be suitable locations for onshore wind farms.

“Critics will no doubt argue that the naturally intermittent supply of wind makes onshore wind energy unsuitable to meet the global demand,” said Peter Enevoldsen, assistant professor in the Center for Energy Technologies at Aarhus University. “But even without accounting for developments in wind turbine technology in the upcoming decades, onshore wind power is the cheapest mature source of renewable energy, and utilising the different wind regions in Europe is the key to meet the demand for a 100 per cent renewable and fully decarbonised energy system.”

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Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.