Wind Power Growth: From A Gust To A Breeze?

With its statement on wind power’s progress in 2011, the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) provided a link to a verion of the press release in Chinese. That was appropriate: China added 18,000 megawatts (MW)—or 18 gigawatts (GW)—of wind power in 2011, 44 percent of the entire world’s new installed capacity. That pushed China’s total to 62.7 GW. The falloff to No. 2 on the list was steep, with the U.S. next with 6,810 MW of new capacity in 2011.

Overall, the world’s total installed capacity was up 21 percent to 238,000 MW at the end of 2011. That beat by a few thousand megawatts the forecast of 234,400 MW the GWEC had issued last spring. But the organization was hardly popping open vintage Champagne in celebration. Instead, it issued a rather sober assessment. “2011 was a tough year, as will be 2012, but the long term fundamentals of the industry remain very sound,” said Steve Sawyer, GWEC secretary general.

China wind power target 2050

image via Shutterstock

What has the GWEC a bit concerned is the trend line: In 2009, installed capacity rose 32 percent. In 2010, 24 percent. In that context, 2011’s 21 percent was another year headed in the wrong direction. Still, Sawyer said, “Despite the state of the global economy, wind power continues to be the renewable generation technology of choice.”

The GWEC said some 75 countries now have commercial wind power installations, and in 22 of those countries capacity exceeds 1 GW. Brazil became a new member off the 1 GW club in 2011, adding 587 MW to reach a total of just over 1,500 MW. The head of the country’s wind trade group said 7,000 MW are in the pipeline to be completed by the end of 2016, but added that “a new policy framework with clear rules for the future is increasingly necessary to keep the pace of growth strong.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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