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.
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.” That seems to be the attitude everywhere around the world: Continued growth will require tweaks by policymakers. That’s certainly true in the United States, where the industry says contraction is already beginning because projects not up and running before the end of the year won’t be eligible for a vital production tax credit.
In the EU, capacity grew by 9,616 MW in 2011, to 93,957 MW. That’s enough to supply 6.3 percent of the EU’s electricity, according to the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA). “But to achieve the EU’s long-term targets we need strong growth again in future years,” Justin Wilkes, Policy Director of EWEA. “A commitment from the European Union to put in place a binding renewable energy target for 2030 would send a very positive signal to potential investors.”
Sawyer said that new markets opening up—in Africa, Asia and Latin America—will prop up growth to a certain extent, but that the big growth the industry seeks is far from certain given the economic environment. “At the end of the day we will be hard pressed to keep the industry’s growth up to its potential without a global price on carbon and other measures to account for the real costs to society of conventional power generation,” he said.