THE FASTEST GROWING
The world added 2,100 megawatts of new wind energy generating capacity in 1998, a new all-time record, and 35 percent more than was added in 1997, according to preliminary estimates by the Worldwatch Institute.
The new wind turbines added in 1998 have pushed overall wind generating capacity worldwide to 9,600 megawatts at the end of this year--double the capacity in place three years earlier. These wind turbines will generate roughly 21 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 1999--enough for 3.5 million suburban homes. Wind power is now the world's fastest growing energy source.
Wind power has also become one of the most rapidly expanding industries, with sales of roughly $2 billion in 1998. The wind industry is creating thousands of jobs at a time when employment in manufacturing is falling in many nations.
The 1998 boom in wind energy was led by Germany, which added 800 megawatts, pushing its wind energy capacity to over 2,800 megawatts. Germany's wind industry, which is only seven years old, is already producing as much electricity as two of the country's largest coal-fired power plants. In the windy northern state of Schleswig Holstein, wind now provides 15 percent of the electricity.
Spain also emerged as a major player in the wind power industry in 1998. Spain added 395 megawatts of wind power, pushing the country's overall capacity up 86 percent to 850 megawatts. In the northern industrial state of Navarra, which has a particularly active wind energy industry, 23 percent of the state's electricity already comes from wind turbines, most of them manufactured in local assembly facilities that employ hundreds of workers in the area around Pamplona.
Wind power installations also grew rapidly in the United States in 1998, with some 235 megawatts of new capacity added across ten different states. The surge in U.S. wind investment, the largest since 1986, was spurred by efforts to take advantage of a wind energy tax credit that is scheduled to expire in June 1999. The largest projects are a 107-megawatt wind farm in Minnesota, one of 42 megawatts in Wyoming, and one of 25 megawatts in Oregon. Most of the rest of the new capacity came in several dozen small projects, ranging from Maine to New Mexico.
Denmark continued as a leader in the global wind power industry in 1998, adding 235 megawatts of capacity. Denmark's 1,350 megawatts of wind power now generate over 8 percent of the country's electricity. And Denmark's wind companies have become leading exporters, accounting for over half the new wind turbines installed worldwide in 1998. Danish companies have also formed successful joint venture manufacturing companies in nations such as India and Spain, leading to the rapid transfer of wind energy technology to these countries. Altogether, the Danish wind industry had gross sales of just under $1 billion in 1998, which roughly equals the combined sales of the nation's natural gas and fishing industries.
The nations that could benefit most from further growth of the wind industry are in the developing world, where power demand is growing rapidly, and most countries lack adequate indigenous supplies of fossil fuels. India is the leader so far, with over 900 megawatts of wind power in place, but wind development has slowed there in the last two years, due to a suspension of the generous tax breaks that were enacted in the mid-1990s. Indian observers expect the new government to restore some of these incentives, which could boost wind development in 1999.
Unlike India, China has not yet established a solid legal basis for a sustained wind power industry, but several companies have installed small wind projects there in the last few years with the help of foreign aid. China has clear potential to become a wind superpower--with abundant wind resources in several regions, including a vast stretch of Inner Mongolia that could be the Saudi Arabia of wind power. China's wind potential is estimated to exceed its total current generating capacity.
The dramatic growth of wind power in the 1990s stems from the introduction of supportive government policies in countries such as Germany and Spain. The most important policies to date are laws that guarantee access to the grid for wind generators at a legally set price for the electricity they produce. These laws have established a stable market for the new industry, and have overcome the resistance of coal- and nuclear-dependent utility companies to the new competition.
Some 80 percent of the global wind power market is now centered in just four countries--which reflects the failure of most other nations to adopt supportive renewable energy policies. Future market growth will depend in large measure on whether additional countries make way for renewable energy sources as they reform their electricity industries.
Advancing technology is also likely to spur wind energy development in the next few years. Modern wind turbines are high-tech devices with aerodynamic blade designs, made of lightweight composite materials, and electronic drives and controls. Larger turbines, more efficient manufacturing, and careful siting of wind machines have brought wind power costs down precipitously-from $2,600 per kilowatt in 1981 to $800 in 1998. Wind power has already reached economic parity with coal-based electricity. And as the technology continues to improve, further cost declines are projected, which could make wind power the most economical new source of electricity in many countries in the next decade.
Overall, wind power is a far larger potential energy source than most people realize. In the United States, the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Texas have sufficient wind capacity to provide electricity for the entire nation. A study by Danish researchers in 1998 laid out a scenario for providing 10 percent of the world's electricity from wind within the next 2 decades. In the longer run, wind power could easily exceed hydropower--which now supplies 23 percent of the world's electricity--as an energy source.
Accelerated growth of the wind industry is likely in 1999, with at least 2,500 megawatts of capacity likely to be installed according to Worldwatch Institute estimates. Spain and the United States should have particularly good years, probably exceeding 500 megawatts of new turbines each. Other countries where market growth is likely include Canada, Italy, Japan, Norway, and the United Kingdom. Among developing countries, Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Egypt, and Morocco are some of the nations that appear poised to develop sizeable wind industries in the coming years.
Written by: Christopher Flavin, Worldwatch Institute
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