Wind turbine installations will continue to expand, consulting firm says

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2013

Global wind energy installations surged 18.6 percent in 2012, bolstered by significant expansions of wind farms in North America and China as well as technological innovation that has allowed turbines to generate electricity in areas with lower wind speeds and colder climates.

Those findings, from the latest “International Wind Energy Development: World Market Update” report by Navigant Consulting, underscore what industry leaders described earlier this year as a record-breaking 12 months for wind power in the United States, which saw 13,124 megawatts of new installations.

According to Navigant, wind energy now accounts for more than 285,000 MW of generation capacity, representing 2.62 percent of the world’s electrical output.

“The wind power industry continues to demonstrate its ability to rapidly evolve to meet new demands in markets that face a variety of challenges,” the report said.

Those challenges include price competition from other fuels and technologies, including shale gas in the United States; economic recoveries in the United States and much of Europe; and a general reduction in government supports for renewable energy technologies.

Yet despite such problems, the industry grew by focusing on technology innovation and product diversification, with vendors deploying new turbines for use in low-wind-speed areas as well as at high altitudes and in cold climates.

Tough economic conditions led to a reshuffling of the top tier of wind energy manufacturers, with GE Wind Energy replacing Vestas Wind Systems A/S of Denmark as the world’s largest maker of wind energy equipment. Vestas, which cut production last year at its two Colorado blade-manufacturing facilities, fell to No. 2, while Siemens AG rose to No. 3 among global wind energy companies.

Political doldrums ahead in the U.S.

Most of the world’s wind turbine installations in 2012 occurred onshore, but offshore wind energy doubled its growth over 2011, with more than 4,000 MW of new capacity under construction in 2012.

Going forward, Navigant forecasts that 241,620 MW of new wind energy will be added through 2017, and that the average growth rate between 2013 and 2017 will be around 5.1 percent. Those projections are more conservative than Navigant’s last world market update due to a variety of factors affecting key markets.

For example, the U.S. market is expected to be somewhat smaller in 2013 due to the dramatic slowdown in new wind farm development late last year as the federal production tax credit (PTC) approached expiration at the end of 2012. Congress extended the PTC for 12 months in January, but “the U.S. market will likely face additional political uncertainty when the PTC expires after 2013,” the report said.

Meanwhile, “established European wind power markets, such as Spain and Italy, are expected to decline in coming years, while China, the world’s largest wind market, will still be in transition from a period of breakneck growth to one of more stable development,” Navigant said.

While advances in turbine technology and scaling of wind farms to generate electricity in lower-wind-speed areas has been one of the industry’s top achievements in recent years, Navigant said the industry’s next frontier will be cold climates, where turbine installations are “growing rapidly.”