Can Wind Power Crack A Million MW By 2017?

Renewable energy installations are on the rise, with wind energy the fastest growing of the bunch. But is the future really as bright for wind as Global Industry Analysts (GIA) believes? In a new report, the firm is forecasting that by 2017, global wind energy capacity will reach “1,062 thousand megawatts (MW),” which is also 1,062 gigawatts. (Or maybe it’s easiest to think of it as just over 1 million MW of clean power.)

According to the Global Wind Energy Council, cumulative installed capacity stood at 238,351 MW at the end of 2011 [PDF]. So GIA is predicting a staggering increase in the next five years, with new installations totaling three times today’s current total. Just last year, Pike Research forecast 2017 wind power capacity at about half of what GIA is saying.

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What makes the GIA number especially hard to believe is that it comes with the global rate of wind power growth slackening: In 2009, installed capacity rose 32 percent. In 2010, 24 percent. And then in 2011, 21 percent. Given that, it’s hard to see how the GIA number—which would require annual growth of around 35 percent over the next five years—could be attained.

Meanwhile, big wind players like Vestas have struggled in the face of increased competition from Chinese manufacturers, causing them to cut production and labor in order to be more competitive.

Still, the entire world is dealing with depleting natural resources and rising oil prices while energy needs continue to rise, making inexpensive, reliable renewable energy sources more attractive than ever. With growing population and development, all eyes are on China as it powers ahead with renewable energy, overtaking the Western countries in 2010 as the largest market of total installed wind capacity. According to GIA, India and Brazil are not far behind while the U.S. also increases its demand.

Offshore wind farms present quite a bit of opportunity, but the technology is still in the beginning stages. While there is a lot of potential for offshore development, the costs of installation, operation and maintenance make it a riskier and more costly option than land based wind farms.

While the cost of wind energy has already come down quite a bit in past years, the GIA asserts that it must fall by another 30 to 50 percent in order to become truly competitive with conventional energies. To help bring the costs down, continued research and development is critical so we can hopefully get a bit closer to reaching the “2020 target” to have wind supply 12 percent of our world’s energy needs.

Angeli Duffin is a Midwest transplant currently living in San Francisco, CA. Kicking off her career doing product design and development with Fair Trade artisans around the world, she then moved on to the editorial side, writing for eBay’s Green Team blog and working as a marketing consultant for social and environmentally minded companies