BRUSSELS - A record year for building new wind farms and a rebound in investments in the sector have raised hopes that the EU may achieve its clean energy targets, industry group WindEurope said on Wednesday.

In an annual report, WindEurope described 2023 as a year of "significant improvements" in key areas of Europe's wind energy sector, which struggled in 2022 with soaring inflation, interest rates and volatile energy markets after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Investments in European offshore wind last year jumped to 30 billion euros, up from the scant 0.4 billion euros that were invested in 2022. EU countries also installed a record-high 16.2 gigawatts of new wind energy capacity last year, around 80% of which was onshore wind farms, the group said.

The lobby group said EU policies to speed up project permits has encouraged the sector, in addition to the bloc's proposals to help wind projects access financing and index prices in government renewable energy auctions.

Germany and Spain each permitted 70% more onshore wind in 2023, compared with the year before.

Europe's wind firms have faced a bleak period of supply chain setbacks, inflation and equipment problems - although Danish turbine manufacturer Vestas (VWS.CO) returned to profit in the fourth quarter of 2023.

WindEurope said it now expects Europe to install an average of 29GW per year from 2024 to 2023, reaching a total 393GW of wind energy capacity in 2030 - pulling close to the 425GW needed to comply with the EU's 2030 renewable energy targets.

"This puts us within striking distance of actually delivering the 2030 wind targets, which are extremely ambitious," the group's Chief Policy Officer Pierre Tardieu said.

The EU warned last year countries' own energy plans mean they are not on track for the bloc's overall 2030 target to get 42.5% of its energy from renewables, including other sources like solar and biomass energy.

WindEurope said the biggest risk to Europe's wind energy expansion is now sluggish investments in upgrading power grids to handle the fast-growing share of renewable energy.

(Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Aurora Ellis)