Wind Power Wobbles Off Its High Growth Track

No form of renewable energy has gained more ground in the past 15 years than wind, with installed capacity up 40-fold. Now, facing a long list of hurdles, the Global Wind Energy Council says the industry will need to work hard to make the next 15 years as fruitful – a necessity in the fight against climate change, in its view.

The council’s 2012 Global Wind Energy Outlook, released this week, says the industry has slid from a track that would have put installed capacity at 1,000 gigawatts by 2020, blaming “recession in most of the OECD, the lack of EU ambition to ‘fix’ its emission trading system (and) fickle policy in the U.S. and elsewhere.”

Global Wind Energy Outlook 2012

image via Global Wind Energy Outlook 2012

Instead, the industry is now on a “moderate” track, headed toward 750 GW in 2020. That’s “not insignificant,” says the report, prepared in cooperation with Greenpeace, “but not sufficient for wind energy to play its full part in combating the climate crisis.”

What to do to make up the difference? Here’s a list of items from the report, any one of which the authors believe “would contribute significantly to reestablishing rapid growth in the wind energy sector”:

  • An end to the partisan bickering over energy policy in the U.S. which creates the destructive boom-bust cycles in that critical market
  • Resolution of grid, certification, transparency and quality issues in China
  • Flushing the free allocations out of the European Emissions Trading System
  • A revitalization of the carbon markets – the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism has more than 100 GW of wind energy projects in the pipeline, but in the absence of a new demand for the credits, reflectin increased emissions reduction ambition from governments, the price for the credits are so low as to be almost immaterial
  • The political courage on the part of at least some governments to tackle the subsidies issue in the Conventional energy sector

Or, as Steve Sawyer, secretary general of the Global Wind Energy Council, put it in a statement: “It is clear that wind energy is going to play a major role in our energy future. But for wind to reach its full potential, governments need to act quickly to address the climate crisis, while there’s still time.”

Global wind energy installations were at about 240 GW at the end of 2011, and at least 40 GW are expected to be added in 2012. The International Energy Agency’s “New Policies Scenario” sees capacity reaching 587 GW by 2020, enough to supply about 6 percent of global electricity. While the GWEO “Moderate” scenario suggests the number is likely to be around 750 GW – 759 GW, supplying 7.7-8.3 percent of global electricity, to be precise – the report also includes an “Advanced” scenario that would put wind at 1,100 GW by 2020. That would translate to between 11.7 and 12.6 percent of global electricity, “saving nearly 1.7 billion tons of CO2 emissions,” the report said.

The complete Global Wind Energy Outlook 2012 report is available online as a 52-page PDF.

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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