June 14, 2008
The Winds of Change
ECOLOGY Global Wind Power Capacity Continues to SkyrocketGlobal instead wind power topped 100,000 megawatts in March. In 2007, wind power capacity increased by a record-breaking 20,000 megawatts, bringing the world total to 94,100 megawatts-enough to satisfy the residential electricity needs of 150,000,000 people, reports Jonathan G. Dorn, staff researcher with Earth Policy Institute, Washington, D.C. Driven by concerns regarding climate change and energy security, one in every three countries now generates a portion of its electricity from wind, with 13 nations each exceeding 1,000 megawatts of capacity.
For the third consecutive year, the U.S. led the world in new installations, with its 5,240 megawatts, accounting for one-quarter of the global total, Dorn notes. Installations in the fourth quarter of 2007 alone exceeded the figure for all of 2006, and the U.S. is on track to overtake Germany as the leader in installed wind power by the end of 2009. Wind farms now are found in 34 states and total 16,800 megawatts. The electrical output from these farms is equivalent to that from 16 coal-fired power plants and is enough to power 4,500,000 homes. This exceptional growth largely is due to an extension of the wind production tax credit under the 2005 Energy Policy Act.
After passing California to become the leader in installed U.S. wind power capacity in 2006, Texas maintained its lead in 2007 by expanding its total capacity to 4,360 megawatts. Minnesota, Iowa, and Washington round out the top five leading states. Moreover, Texas is planning the development of 23,000 megawatts of wind power capacity, enough to satisfy over half the residential electricity demand in the state. Southern California Edison is planning a 4,500- megawatt wind project, and a task force established by Maine Gov. John Baldacci is recommending the development of 3,000 megawatts. At the national level, wind farm proposals exceed 100,000 megawatts, roughly six times the current installed capacity.
In Europe, Dorn continues, the 8,660 megawatts of wind power capacity added last year accounted for 40% of all new power installations. This marks the first year in history that wind power additions in Europe exceeded those of any other power source, including natural gas. Europe's installed capacity currently totals 57,100 megawatts, and its new installations in 2007 accounted for 43% of total global installations. Wind-generated electricity meets nearly four percent of Europe's electricity demand, enough to supply electricity to 90,000,000 residents.
Germany remains the front-runner in total installed wind power capacity, with 22,200 megawatts but, in 2007, it lagged behind the U.S., Spain, China, and India in terms of new capacity added. Growth in Germany is slowing because of a saturation of suitable onshore sites and a decrease in the feed-in tariff for wind power. Countrywide, Germany generates more than seven percent of its electricity from the wind. Spain proved to be the shocker in the European market in 2007, installing 3,520 megawatts-the highest number ever in Europe in a single year. Spain, at present, ranks third in total installed wind capacity with 15,100 megawatts-and with wind energy supplying 10% of the country's electricity, Spain is second only to Denmark in terms of percentage of electricity generated this way. France also demonstrated impressive gains last year, increasing its total by 57% to 2,450 megawatts. The French government's goal is to raise installed wind capacity to 25,000 megawatts by 2020.
India installed 1,730 megawatts in 2007. With total installed capacity reaching 8,000 megawatts, India retained fourth place on the list of top wind power countries. However, due to the lack of a national renewable energy law that establishes cohesive goals and provides economic incentives for Indian wind energy projects, China likely will overtake it in total installed wind power capacity in late 2008 or early 2009, says Dorn.
China installed 3,450 megawatts in 2007, a 156% increase over 2006. With 6,050 megawatts of total installed capacity at the end of 2007, China already has exceeded its recent 2010 goal of 5,000 megawatts. The more than 40 Chinese turbine manufacturers operating today supply 56% of the Chinese market, up from 41% in 2006. The Renewable Energy Law (REL), which entered into force on Jan. 1, 2006, is encouraging wind energy growth. REL was established to help China meet its goal of generating 15% of the country's energy from renewables by 2020. It mandates power producers to increase their ownership of nonhydro renewables to three percent by 2010 and eight percent by 2020. While the government target for 2020 is 30,000 megawatts, the Chinese Renewable Energy Industry Association projects that, with a feed-in tariff and greater investment in offshore wind farms, installations in China by then could exceed four times that target, Dorn relates.
The cost of onshore wind power has decreased by more than 80% since the early 1980s to roughly seven cents per kilowatt-hour at favorable wind sites. In some markets, wind is competitive with conventional power generation. In most markets, however, due to subsidies for conventional energy sources, the growth of wind power still depends on economic incentives. For example, the dearth of installations in the U.S. in 2002 and 2004* when the PTC (Production Tax Credit) for wind was allowed to lapse, underscores the importance of extending the PTC for wind that is set to expire at the end of 2008. If the full cost of carbon emissions were incorporated into the price of natural gas and coal, onshore wind would become the cheapest electricity source.
With mounting concerns over global climate change and energy security, wind energy rapidly is taking center stage in the new economy. Unlike conventional energy sources, electricity generation from wind does not release greenhouse gases associated with global warming. Wind also offers long-term energy security, since it is inexhaustible, widely distributed, and free. If the present 27% annual growth rate of installed wind power capacity is maintained, total capacity in 2020 will hit 2,000,000 megawatts. With aggressive economic incentives, it could reach 3,000,000 megawatts by that date- which would be 30 times as much as is available today, Dorn concludes.
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