It may not rank in popularity with the World Cup but a growing interest in Global Wind Day (June 15) continues to underscore the significant contribution that the emissions-free electricity-generating technology is making to mitigate the worst excesses of burning fossil fuels.
No longer considered an alternative energy source, the wind power sector is now present in more than 80 nations and had generated a global cumulative installed capacity of 318,105 megawatts (MW) by the end of last year.
Despite having to still fight the NIMBY factor in some places, or craven politicians beholden to the business-as-usual coal, oil and gas lobbies, the wind power industry is proving it is already a dependable component of the low-carbon economy that humankind needs to embrace if it is to survive.
The statistics are indisputable.
According to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), six countries had more than 10,000 MW in cumulative installed capacity by the end of last year including China (91,412 MW), the U.S. (61,091 MW), Germany (34,250 MW), Spain (22,959 MW), India (20,150 MW) and the U.K. (10,531 MW).
China was once again the largest overall national market for wind power last year, adding an additional 16,088 MW. The U.S. took second place with an extra 1,084 MW installed in 2013. Canada added 1,599 of additional capacity, bringing its total to 7,803 MW.
GWEC noted that, as a region, Europe was still the major player in the global industry, adding 12,031 MW of capacity and bringing its total to 121,474 MW. All of Asia, however, generated 18,216 additional MW in 2013 for a total of 115,927 MW. Including Mexico, North America added 3,063 MW for a cumulative total of 70,811 MW.
But there is more to wind power than statistics.
GWEC said the U.S. wind power sector experienced a tough year in 2013 even though domestic wind capacity can already power the equivalent of more than 15 million average American homes.
“Question marks throughout 2012 surrounding the pending extension of the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC), which caused the industry supply chain and project development pipeline to drastically slow down, meant manufacturers and developers had to work especially hard to ramp back up and secure new growth.”
GWEC added the U.S. wind industry experienced last year a 92 per cent drop in new installations compared to 2012, primarily due to policy uncertainty over the key tax incentive which was eventually extended on Jan. 1, 2013.
“A few states stand out as role models for the country, powering past old records and setting new standards for renewable energy sources across the United States,” GWEC said. “One particular day in May 2013, Colorado set a new record by producing over 60 per cent of its electricity from wind. In Texas, wind power is approaching 10 per cent of the state’s total electricity generation. Iowa is producing 25 per cent of its power from wind, and overall, nine states obtain 10 per cent or more of their electricity from wind energy.”
GWEC said the progress of Canada’s wind energy sector in 2013 provides a strong foundation on which to build. The Brussels-based organization added wind energy is now positioned to supply approximately three per cent of Canada’s electricity demand; enough power to meet the annual needs of over two million Canadian homes.
“As the provinces begin to lay out plans for what their future electricity supply mix will look like, they have signalled a common desire to seek affordable power that provides strong economic development potential and minimal environmental impacts – characteristics highly favourable to future wind energy development,” GWEC noted.
“A strong majority of Canadians support more wind energy development, so it remains important to continue to work with allies to have wind energy supporters’ voices heard in discussions on Canada’s electricity future…Continued political support and policy stability is critical to ensure wind energy continues to deliver clean, safe and affordable power to Canadian families and businesses.”
The many benefits of wind power are also being endorsed by the International Energy Agency (IEA), which notes the technology continues to improve rapidly, the costs of generation from land-based installations continue to fall and the industry is now being deployed in countries with good resources without any dedicated financial incentives.
The IEA’s Wind Power Technology Roadmap “targets 15 per cent to 18 per cent share of global electricity from wind power by 2050, a notable increase from the 12 per cent aimed for in 2009. The new target of 2,300 [gigawatts] GW to 2,800 GW of installed wind capacity will avoid emissions of up to 4.8 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year.”
The roadmap says achieving those targets requires rapid scaling up of the current annual installed wind power capacity from 45 GW in 2012 to 65 GW by 2020, to 90 GW by 2030 and to 104 GW by 2050. The annual investment needed would be USD 146 billion to USD 170 billion, the roadmap added.
It also pointed out that higher levels of “low-cost wind still require predictable, supportive regulatory environments and appropriate market designs. The challenges of integrating higher levels of variable wind power into the grid need to be addressed. For offshore wind, much remains to be done to develop appropriate large-scale systems and to reduce costs.”
So lots to think about around this Global Wind Day, from green electricity to dependable power for a growing global population. One certainty is this: wind power is already a major player in our low-carbon future.
Image Credit: Wind turbine at the Ocotillo Express Wind Energy Project by slworking2 via Flickr.