"This is a much-needed testament and historical document from one of the great environmentalists of our time.” —Edward O. Wilson, University Research Professor, Harvard University, on Lester Brown's memoir Breaking New Ground.
At its current growth rate, global installed wind power capacity will top 100,000 megawatts in March 2008. In 2007, wind power capacity increased by a record-breaking 20,000 megawatts, bringing the world total to 94,100 megawatts—enough to satisfy the residential electricity needs of 150 million people. Driven by concerns regarding climate change and energy security, one in every three countries now generates a portion of its electricity from wind, with 13 countries each exceeding 1,000 megawatts of installed wind electricity-generating capacity.
In Europe, the 8,660 megawatts of wind power capacity added in 2007 accounted for 40 percent of all new power installations. This marks the first year in history that wind power additions in Europe exceeded the additions of any other power source, including natural gas. Europe’s installed capacity currently totals 57,100 megawatts, and its new installations in 2007 accounted for 43 percent of total global installations. Wind-generated electricity now meets nearly 4 percent of Europe’s electricity demand, enough to supply electricity to 90 million residents.
Germany is still the frontrunner in total installed wind power capacity, with 22,200 megawatts, but in 2007 it lagged the United States, Spain, China, and India in terms of new capacity added. (See data.) Growth in Germany is slowing because of a saturation of suitable onshore sites and a decrease in the feed-in tariff for wind power. Countrywide, Germany generates more than 7 percent of its electricity from the wind. In the northern states of Saxony-Anhalt, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, and Schleswig-Holstein, wind meets an impressive 30 percent of electricity needs.
Spain proved to be the shocker in the European market in 2007, installing 3,520 megawatts—the highest number ever in Europe in a single year. Spain now ranks third in total installed wind capacity with 15,100 megawatts. And with wind energy supplying 10 percent of the country’s electricity, Spain is second only to Denmark in terms of percentage of electricity generated this way.
France also demonstrated impressive gains in 2007, increasing its total installed wind capacity by 57 percent to 2,450 megawatts. The French government’s goal is to increase installed wind capacity to 25,000 megawatts by 2020.
For the third consecutive year, the United States led the world in new installations, with its 5,240 megawatts accounting for one-quarter of global installations in 2007. Installations in the fourth quarter of 2007 alone exceeded the figure for all of 2006, and the United States is on track to overtake Germany as the leader in installed wind power by the end of 2009. Wind farms are now found in 34 states and total 16,800 megawatts. The electrical output from these farms is equivalent to that from 16 coal-fired power plants and is enough to power 4.5 million U.S. homes. The recent exceptional growth in the United States is largely due to an extension of the wind production tax credit under the 2005 Energy Policy Act.
After passing California to become the leader in installed U.S. wind power capacity in 2006, Texas maintained its lead in 2007 by expanding its total capacity to 4,360 megawatts. Minnesota, Iowa, and Washington round out the top five leading states. Texas is now planning the development of 23,000 megawatts of wind power capacity, enough to satisfy over half the residential electricity demand in the state. Southern California Edison is planning a 4,500-megawatt wind project, and a task force established by Maine’s governor, John Baldacci, is recommending the development of 3,000 megawatts. At the national level, wind farm proposals exceed an astounding 100,000 megawatts, roughly six times the current installed capacity.
India installed 1,730 megawatts of new wind power capacity in 2007. With total installed capacity reaching 8,000 megawatts, India retained its fourth place on the list of top wind power countries. But due to the lack of a national renewable energy law that establishes cohesive goals and provides economic incentives for Indian wind energy projects, China will likely overtake India in total installed wind power capacity in late 2008 or early 2009.
China installed 3,450 megawatts of wind capacity in 2007, a 156-percent increase over 2006. With 6,050 megawatts of total installed capacity at the end of 2007, China has already exceeded its recent 2010 goal of 5,000 megawatts. The more than 40 Chinese turbine manufacturers now operating supply 56 percent of the Chinese market, up from 41 percent in 2006. The Renewable Energy Law (REL), which entered into force on January 1, 2006, is encouraging wind energy growth. The REL was established to help China meet its goal of generating 15 percent of the country’s energy from renewables by 2020. It mandates power producers to increase their ownership of non-hydro renewables to 3 percent by 2010 and 8 percent by 2020. While the government target for 2020 is 30,000 megawatts of wind power capacity, the Chinese Renewable Energy Industry Association projects that with a feed-in tariff and greater investment in offshore wind farms, wind power installations in China by then could exceed four times that target.
Offshore wind capacity accounts for almost 1,170 megawatts worldwide, roughly 1.2 percent of the 94,100 megawatts of installed capacity at the end of 2007; while this is a small share of the total, it is up from less than 0.3 percent in 2000. Denmark maintained its leadership position, with 426 megawatts of installed offshore wind power capacity, followed by the United Kingdom, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Finland. In 2008, the United Kingdom is expected to overtake Denmark for the top spot and Germany is poised to move into the top five. With more than 1,200 megawatts presently under construction worldwide, primarily in Europe, offshore wind capacity is expected to more than double by the end of 2009.
U.K. Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise, and Regulatory Reform, John Hutton, is advocating 33,000 megawatts of offshore wind power by 2020, enough to meet the electrical needs of every home in Britain. Helping to achieve this goal will be the 1,000-megawatt London Array in the Thames Estuary, scheduled for completion in 2012. Airtricity, an Irish energy development firm, and ABB, a leader in building energy infrastructure, have proposed a 10,000-megawatt wind farm project in the North Sea. To help offset the high cost of offshore development, some countries such as Germany and Ireland have implemented feed-in tariffs. The Irish tariff guarantees producers a 15-year fixed price of 20¢ per kilowatt-hour for electricity generated from new offshore wind farms.
The cost of onshore wind power has decreased by more than 80 percent since the early 1980s to roughly 7¢ per kilowatt-hour at favorable wind sites. In some markets, wind is now competitive with conventional power generation. In most markets, however, due to subsidies for conventional energy sources, the growth of wind power still depends on economic incentives. For example, the dearth of wind power installations in the United States in 2002 and 2004, when the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind was allowed to lapse, underscores the importance of extending the PTC for wind that is set to expire at the end of 2008. (See data.) If the full cost of carbon emissions were incorporated into the price of natural gas and coal, onshore wind would become the cheapest electricity source.
With mounting concerns over global climate change and energy security, wind energy is rapidly taking center stage in the new energy economy. Unlike conventional energy sources, electricity generation from wind does not release greenhouse gases associated with global warming. Wind also offers long-term energy security, since it is inexhaustible, widely distributed, and free. If the present 27-percent annual growth rate of installed wind power capacity is maintained, total capacity in 2020 will hit 2 million megawatts. With aggressive economic incentives, it could reach 3 million megawatts by that date—which would be 30 times as much as is available today.
Copyright © 2008 Earth Policy Institute