Back to top
Credit: Jim West / Alamy Stock Photo

Electricity Generation

Wind Turbines (Onshore)

Wind turbine under construction

Wind energy is at the crest of initiatives to address global warming in the coming three decades. Today, 314,000 wind turbines supply nearly 4 percent of global electricity, and it will soon be much more. In 2015, a record 63 gigawatts of wind power were installed around the world.

The wind industry is marked by a proliferation of turbines, dropping costs, and heightened performance. In many locales, wind is either competitive with or less expensive than coal-generated electricity—and it has no fuel costs and no pollution. Ongoing cost reduction will soon make wind energy the least expensive source of electricity, perhaps within a decade.

Onshore wind farms have small footprints, typically using no more than 1 percent of the land they sit on, so grazing, farming, recreation, or conservation can happen simultaneously with power generation. What’s more, it takes one year or less to build a wind farm—quickly producing energy and a return on investment.

The variable nature of wind means there are times when turbines are not turning. Wind energy, like other sources of energy, is part of a system. Investment in 24-7 renewables such as geothermal, energy storage, transmission infrastructure, and distributed generation is essential to its growth.


Liverpool…Burbo Bank Extension: Schwägerl, Christian. “Offshore Wind Energy is Booming in Europe.” Yale Environment 360. October 20, 2016.

314,000 wind turbines supply…electricity: GWEC. “Wind in Numbers.”; REN21. Renewables 2016 Global Status Report. Paris: REN21 Secretariat, 2016.

Ten million homes in Spain: GWEC, “Numbers.”

Investment in offshore wind: “Record $30bn year for Offshore Wind But Overall Investment Down.” Bloomberg New Energy Finance. January 12, 2017.

[history of wind power]: Hills, Richard L. Power from Wind: A History of Windmill Technology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.; “Timeline: The History of Wind Power.” The Guardian. October 17, 2008; DOE. “History of U.S. Wind Energy.”

2015…wind power [installations]: REN21, Renewables 2016.

[U.S.] wind energy potential: Elliott, D.L., L.L. Wendell, and G.L. Gower. An Assessment of the Available Windy Land Area and Wind Energy Potential in the Contiguous United States. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Energy, 1991. 

fossil fuel…subsidies: Coady, David, Ian Parry, Louis Sears, and Baoping Shang. IMF Working Paper: How Large Are Global Energy Subsidies? Washington, D.C.: International Monetary Fund, 2015. 

Current costs; “lowest cost source”: Hensley, John. “New Reports Highlight Bright, Low-Cost Future of Wind.” Into the Wind—the AWEA (blog). August 18, 2016; Kooroshy, Jaakko, Brian Lee, Franklin Chow, Stefan Burgstaller, Justus Schirmacher, Daniela Costa, Michael Lapides, and Alberto Gandolfi. The Low Carbon Economy: Technology in the Driver’s Seat. The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. November 28, 2016.

[cost of] projects built in 2016: Hensley, “Future.”

Bloomberg New Energy Finance: Randall, Tom. “The World Nears Peak Fossil Fuels for Electricity.” Bloomberg. June 13, 2016.

United States…capacity factors: WINDExchange. “Potential Wind Capacity.”

view all book references


p. 2

Today, 314,000 wind turbines supply 3.7 percent of global electricity.

Correction (Offshore): $545.3 BILLION NET COST  $762.5 BILLION NET SAVINGS

Caption: The wind farm consists of 88 Siemens 3.6-megawatt turbines placed over a 14-square-mile area, 11 miles from shore.

In Germany in 2015, bottlenecks in the grid caused 4,100 gigawatt-hours of wind electricity to be wasted—enough energy to power 1.2 million homes for a year.

An increase in onshore wind from 3 to 4 percent of world electricity use to 21.6 percent by 2050 could reduce emissions by 84.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide.

At a combined cost of $1.8 trillion, wind turbines can deliver net savings of $8.2 trillion over three decades of operation.

view all errata

Technical Summary

Wind Turbines (Onshore)

Project Drawdown defines wind turbines (onshore) as: onshore utility-scale wind power technologies. This solution replaces conventional electricity-generating technologies such as coal, oil, and natural gas power plants.

After slow but steady growth, onshore wind capacity has increased by around 20 percent per year for the past decade, adding a record 63 gigawatts of new wind power capacity in 2015 (22 percent increase over the 2014 market). Total wind capacity was 433 gigawatts in 2015, dominated by China, followed by the United States, Germany, and Spain.


Total Addressable Market [1]

The total addressable market for wind turbines (onshore) is based on projected global electricity generation in terawatt-hours from 2020-2050, with current adoption estimated [2] at 3.06 percent (i.e. 689 terawatt-hours) of generation (IRENA, 2016).

Adoption Scenarios [3]

Impacts of increased adoption of wind turbines (onshore) from 2020-2050 were generated based on three growth scenarios, which were assessed in comparison to a Reference Scenario where the solution’s market share was fixed at the current levels.

  • Plausible Scenario: Based on the evaluation of six global energy systems models, [4] this scenario follows a high growth trajectory, capturing 21.65 percent of the electricity generation market share in 2050.
  • Drawdown Scenario: This scenario follows a more aggressive adoption pathway aligned with the Greenpeace Advanced Energy [R]evolution Scenario, resulting in a 33.4 percent share of the market in 2050.
  • Optimum Scenario: This scenario also follows the Greenpeace Advanced Energy [R]evolution Scenario, 5] resulting in a 34.8 percent shares of the market in 2050.

Financial Model

The financial inputs used in the model consider an average installation cost of US$1,854 per kilowatt [6] with a learning rate of 14.5 percent (Hayward and Graham, 2013), resulting in first costs of US$1,273 per kilowatt in 2030 and US$1,049 in 2050. An average capacity factor of 32.5 percent is used for onshore wind turbines, compared to 55 percent for conventional technologies (i.e. coal, natural gas, and oil power plants). Variable operation and maintenance costs of US$0.022 per kilowatt-hour and of US$37.0 per kilowatt for fixed costs are considered for onshore wind, compared to US$0.005 per kilowatt-hour and US$33.0 per kilowatt for the conventional technologies. In some world regions, reports for first costs have been significantly lower (around US$1200 per kilowatt in the United States and China) and much higher for capacity factors (reaching 55 percent in the USA). Nonetheless, because of the differences in levels and speed of adoption at regional scales, more conservative values were chosen.

Integration [7]

Through the process of integrating wind turbines (onshore) with other solutions, the total addressable market for electricity generation technologies was adjusted to account for reduced demand resulting from the growth of more energy-efficient technologies, [8] as well as increased electrification from other solutions like electric vehicles and high-speed rail. Grid emissions factors were calculated based on the annual mix of different electricity generating technologies over time. Emissions factors for each technology were determined through a meta-analysis of multiple sources, accounting for direct and indirect emissions.


The results of the Plausible Scenario show that the net cost compared to the Reference Scenario would be US$1.2 trillion from 2020-50, with nearly US$7.4 trillion in savings over the same period. Increasing the use of onshore wind from 3.06 percent in 2014 to 21.65 percent of world electricity generation by 2050 would require an estimated US$5.2 trillion in cumulative first costs. With its low greenhouse gas emissions, under the Plausible Scenario, onshore wind turbines could reduce 84.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions from 2020-2050.

Both the Drawdown and Optimum Scenarios are significantly more ambitious, with emission reductions over 2020-2050 of 146.5 and 139.3 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent, respectively.



The results of the Plausible Scenario are higher than those of the 2°C Scenario of IEA ETP (2016), which estimates the growth of onshore wind to reach only 14.5 percent of the market in 2050. This is, in part, a result of the significant proportion of coal and natural gas power plants with carbon capture and storage projected by the IEA, which is not considered in this analysis. Compared to the Greenpeace Energy [R]evolution Scenario, our results are very similar for both electricity generated (around 11,000 terawatt-hours) and market share (22 percent) (Greenpeace, 2015).


Wind power plays a large and essential role in any long-term projections towards a low-carbon future. As a renewable resource, wind does not require mining or drilling for fuel, and its costs are therefore not susceptible to fluctuations in fossil fuel prices.

One of the concerns with wind electricity is intermittency: wind speeds vary on a seasonal and hourly basis, requiring back-up power or storage at certain times to meet electricity demand. The increased use of wind and solar may require investments and improvements in grid infrastructure and the flexibility of power systems. Yet studies and real-world experience suggest these investments are manageable and cost less than fossil fuels when externalities (health and environmental effects that are not captured in the market price of the technology) are taken into account. Further, many regions do not yet have a centralized electric system designed around fossil use, and may more easily design a flexible or distributed electricity system taking advantage of renewable and endogenous resources.

The amount of new wind power capacity is projected to continue growing steadily with or without climate policies, showing that the technology is mature and cost-competitive with fossil fuels. However, wind deployment could be accelerated by: policies that put a price on carbon emissions; feed-in tariffs; renewable portfolio standards encouraging renewable energy use; public research and development to help advance the technology and further lower costs; and financial incentives such as production credits and tax breaks.

[1] For more about the Total Addressable Market for the Energy Sector, click the Sector Summary: Energy link below.

[2] Current adoption is defined as the amount of functional demand supplied by the solution in the base year of study. This study uses 2014 as the base year due to the availability of global adoption data for all Project Drawdown solutions evaluated.

[3] To learn more about Project Drawdown’s three growth scenarios, click the Scenarios link below. For information on Energy Sector-specific scenarios, click the Sector Summary: Energy link.

[4] GEM-E3 450 Scenario; MESSAGE-Macro 450 Scenario; IMAGE-Timer 450 Scenario (AMPERE, 2014); IEA ETP 2C Scenario (2016); Greenpeace Energy [R]evolution Scenario (2015) and Advanced Energy [Revolution] Scenario from the Greenpeace Wind Outlook (2014).

[5] It represents an ambitious pathway towards a fully decarbonized energy system in 2050, with significant additional efforts compared to the Energy [R]evolution scenario. The Advanced Energy [R]evolution Scenario needs strong efforts to transform the energy systems of all world regions toward a 100 percent renewable energy supply.

[6] All monetary values are presented in US2014$.

[7] For more on Project Drawdown’s Energy Sector integration model, click the Sector Summary: Energy link below.

[8] For example: LED lighting and heat pumps.

Research Inquiry Form

Want more information on Project Drawdown’s research methodology and models? Complete this form to contact the Drawdown Research team.

Which Drawdown solution sector most interests you? * (choose one)
Do you have a copy of Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming? *
What would you like to know about Drawdown’s research methodology and models? * Please note that, due to time and resource constraints, we may not be able to provide extensive information or data.
Other questions, comments, or suggestions:
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
5 + 11 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.
Back to top

Join Us