Global wind is sufficient for 250 million consumers

Despite the worldwide economic downturn, wind energy capacity jumped 31% and generates electricity in 70 countries, 17 of which now have at least 1,000 MW installed, says the Earth Policy Institute in its report on wind energy.

China led with 13,000 MW of new wind capacity, the first time that any country has installed more than 10,000 MW in a single year. With a total of 25,000 MW, China has doubled its wind capacity in each of the last five years, moving into third place behind the United States and Germany.

“Considering the ambitious projects already in its development pipeline, it is not likely to stay in third place for long,” and the report notes that China's Wind Base programme has identified six windy provinces to host seven wind mega-complexes of between 10,000 MW and 37,000 MW each. When complete, these wind bases will total 130,000 MW of capacity, more than the entire world had at the end of 2008.

China to lead wind energy growth

Amendments to China's Renewable Energy Law of 2006 will take effect in April 2010, and government agencies have been directed to determine and enforce the share of total electricity from renewable energy sources, similar to the renewable portfolio standards. The amendments will also provide for transmission lines and grid upgrades.

The United States passed Germany in wind capacity in 2008 and widened its lead last year, expanding by 10,000 MW to reach a cumulative 35,000 MW of wind turbines. Texas remains the leading state in both annual and total wind installations, reaching 9,400 MW overall. Although Iowa is a distant second with 3,700 MW of wind capacity, at least 17% of electricity in that state comes from wind.

“As the financial crisis tightened credit and suppressed investment in early 2009, the US wind industry was bracing for a steep drop in installations from 2008's record 8,400 MW but, due in large part to wind-friendly provisions in the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009, more than 100 new wind farms came online in 28 states, in what was the strongest year yet for US wind construction,” the report adds

Wind is well established in Europe

In Europe, Spain added the most new wind in 2009 but, with 26,000 MW installed, Germany still commands the continent’s largest wind capacity. Two states in northern Germany, with combined population of four million, routinely source 40% of their electricity from wind turbines.

Several markets in Europe have great potential for wind, and the report says Italy, France and Britain have doubled their installed wind capacity since 2006, with all three crossing the 4,000 MW mark last year. Another country that is expanding its wind energy is Portugal, which edged past Denmark last year.

“Europe, China and the United States tend to dominate the wind headlines, but many other countries are also harnessing this abundant energy source,” it notes. India installed 1,300 MW last year, which was 30% less than in 2008 but enough to make it the fifth country to surpass 10,000 MW of wind capacity.

Offshore wind is poised to grow rapidly

“Most of the world's wind turbines are found on land, but offshore wind capacity is poised to grow rapidly from its current 2,100 MW,” the report adds. Nearly 600 MW were brought online last year, including the world's largest offshore project (Denmark's 209 MW Horns Rev 2 wind farm in the North Sea).

“Having increased ninefold in total capacity since the start of the twenty-first century, wind power is quickly solidifying its position as an important part of the global energy mix,” it concludes. “As governments look to reduce dependence on price-volatile fossil fuels and to cut carbon emissions, wind ... is becoming an increasingly attractive option.”