Global wind energy jumps by 21% in 2011

Source: Christa Marshall • E&E • Posted: Friday, February 10, 2012

Led by China and the United States, the global wind market grew 6 percent last year, according to a new report.

The wind industry installed more than 41,000 megawatts of new power in 2011, pushing the worldwide total up 21 percent to 238,000 MW by year’s end, the Global Wind Energy Council reported in annual market statistics. China installed 18,000 MW of new capacity, roughly triple the amount of the United States.

India came in third with 3,019 MW, followed by Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada and Spain. Overall, though, the group said that the majority of new installations came from countries outside of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

“New markets in Latin America, Africa and Asia drove the growth,” the wind council said.

Widespread concern about wind and air pollution is driving the growth in developing countries, said Steve Sawyer, secretary-general of the Brussels-based group. China, for example, has been doubling its wind capacity annually for much of the past half-decade with the help of feed-in tariffs, or incentives that provide long-term contracts to renewable energy producers.

China’s market stalled by grid constraints

At the same time, the Chinese wind energy market has stabilized and will not be able to grow at its former pace because of constraints in grid capacity, he said. That slowdown should continue for a few years, until the Asian giant completes planned “supergrid” projects, he said.

In the United States, much of the industry’s future growth hinges on a federal production tax credit set to expire at the end of the year. The fate of that tax credit, along with the trajectory of economies in Europe and China generally, will determine the global industry’s path in the year ahead, Sawyer said.

Canada, which ranked sixth globally in the report, said it installed 1,267 MW of new capacity in 2011, representing an investment of $3.1 billion. The coming year is expected to see a higher number of installations, with planned projects in the works in six Canadian provinces, said Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association. Overall, more than 5,000 MW of wind energy projects are already contracted to be built in Canada under existing policies, he said.

At the same time, “there is a concern” about the withdrawal of some federal incentives in Canada that helped provinces there put aggressive wind policies in place five or six years ago, he said.

Ontario, for example, established a feed-in tariff in 2009 and has “the most progressive” policy in North America, according to Hornung.

The province is reviewing its law, however, and has faced some push-back from groups worried about the aesthetics of turbines. Last month, Ontario’s largest farm organization protested the growth of wind power, citing concerns about the quality of life in rural communities (ClimateWire, Feb. 6).

Canadian provinces likely will continue their aggressive policies, Hornung said, but he added that Canada is one of the few countries in the world where the national government is not playing a major role in its wind industry.