Energy Transition Knowledge Series


QUIZ 2: How many NEW wind turbines would we need to replace the WHOLE thermal power today?

Currently, there are 700.000 wind turbines on a global basis, including on-shore and off-shore.

If we had the money, the permits, the place, an infinite and inmediate capacity to manufacture as many wind turbines as we want, how many should we install to replace all the thermal power electricity generated globally today?

ADEX Quiz 2 results

As we saw in the Quiz 1 below, +15.000 MWh of Thermal Power are consumed annualy today. If we want to replace all of them and get rid off the thermal power of the mix, we need to cover the energy produced but we also need to fix the intermittency of renewable energy. For this exercise, we will assume we have enough utility-scale batteries to store energy and release it when the wind turbines are not operating. We will need a significant extra capacity to charge those batteries, particularly at peak times and during the nights.

In the Figure below, one day of Electricity generation in Spain is shown as an example of a daily mix profile. In GREEN you can see the wind power produced along the day, on the 30th of January of 2023. In general, the wind peak of production is on average 50% to 60% bigger than the low value during the day.

Spanish Electricity Mix

To simplify the exercise, we will not include long periods of lack of wind as it happens in reality from time to time. It is quite common to having one full week with low or no wind. Today those periods are covered by thermal power plants and we do not have to modify our life. If no power plants are available, the amount of storage and the number of wind turbines to charge them would be utopic, if we do not want to have a total shutdown of the grid.

So, assumptions will be:

  • Thermal Power to be replaced: 15.600 TWh per year
  • Global average of Wind Turbine capacity: 2 MW
  • Power Load Factor: 0.3
  • Overcapacity to store energy for peak demand times and low wind generation: 65%
  • Annual Repowering Need: 5%
Then, the total number of Wind Turbine Generators required to cover this situation is 4,93 Million units.

With increased capacity and improved generation, its share increased by more than 6% in 2020 and is expected to grow more than 10% by 2030. The total global installed wind power capacity increased from more than 190 gigawatts (GW) in 2010 to more than 740 GW in 2020 at a CAGR of more than 10%. The capacity is expected to increase at a CAGR of more than 9% during 2020–2030 to reach a cumulative installed capacity of more than 1800 GW by 2030.

Even with full implementation of all countries’ submitted Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) to 2030 under the Paris Agreement as of November 2021, the world is on-track for a 2.4°C global temperature increase


QUIZ 1: Which % of the worldwide electricity generated in 2020 was produced by Thermal Power Plants?

During the last 37 years, Thermal Power Plants (coal + gas+ oil) have produced between 61% and 68% of the worldwide annual electricity (averaging 64%). Particularly, during the pandemic, in both 2020 and 2021, it was 61%. Thus the best answer for the quiz was “64%“.

We must highlight that most of the voters chose scenarios where the majority of the electricity is generated through thermal power.

Quiz 1 results

This percentage is decreasing and many of the international climate targets are linked with its relative weight in the electricity mix, not an absolute value. And this is a trick.

The overall amount of electricity produced by Thermal has been over 15,000 TWh during the last 10 years (see red box in the graph below). It is true that renewable energy has added a lot of extra capacity to the base so we all guess Thermal generation is decreasing but it is not.

We have high expectations on Wind + Solar, but the fact is that they are still only 11% of the whole mix.

If we want to replace Thermal Power with Renewables, and particularly with Wind and Solar, we do have a challenge, both technological and economical

You can see in this graph how the Top 10 Countries by amount of Thermal Power produced have evolved during the last 20 years. And you see how the collective power of these Top 10 has been growing and growing: