Published on Wednesday, January 16, 2002 by Inter Press Service
Wind Is Fastest Growing Power Sector
by Danielle Knight
WASHINGTON - Electricity generated by wind power worldwide jumped 31 percent last year, making it the fastest growing part of the energy sector, according to new estimates by industry and environmentalists.
The Washington-based Earth Policy Institute says global wind electric generating capacity rose from 17,800 megawatts in 2000 to 23,300 megawatts in 2001 - enough to satisfy the needs of 23 million people.
''Abundant, inexhaustible, and cheap, wind promises to become the foundation of the new energy economy,'' says Lester Brown, president of the advocacy group. Since 1995, world wind-generating capacity has increased by 487 percent, he adds.
Environmentalists like Brown have been strong supporters of wind energy because unlike nuclear and fossil fuels, wind does not produce pollutants, heat-trapping greenhouse gases, or hazardous wastes.
According to the European Wind Energy Association, a Brussels- based industry group, wind-generating capacity in Europe has increased by about 40 percent per year for the past six years.
''Today, wind energy projects across Europe produce enough electricity to meet the domestic needs of five million people,'' says a statement by the association.
One megawatt of wind-generating capacity typically will satisfy the electricity needs of 350 households in an industrial society, or roughly 1,000 people.
Germany leads the world in wind power capacity with 8,000 megawatts, nearly one-third of the total. It added 1,890 megawatts in 2001.
The United States, which launched a modern wind power industry in the west coast state of California in the early 1980s, is second with 4,150 megawatts. It added 1,600 megawatts in 2001, a 63 percent jump in generating capacity since 2000.
Wind power is one of the cheapest methods of generating electricity in the United States, according to calculations by the Earth Policy Institute. The cost of wind-generated electricity has fallen from 35 cents per kilowatt-hour in the mid-1980s to four cents per kilowatt-hour at prime wind sites in 2001, it says.
Spain is in third place, with 3,300 megawatts coming from wind power. Denmark, fourth in line with 2,500 megawatts, now gets 18 percent of its electricity from wind.
As a result of the increase in wind power generation, investment in wind turbine manufacture and wind development has been highly profitable.
''While high-tech firms as a group suffered a disastrous fall in sales, earnings, and stock value in 2001, sales in the wind industry soared,'' says Brown.
At the Danish-based firm Nordex, one of the world's largest turbine manufacturers, for example, turnover during the first nine months of 2001 was up 19 percent and new orders were up 56 percent.
Despite this recent surge, Brown says development of the Earth's wind resources has barely begun.
''In densely populated Europe, there is enough easily accessible offshore wind energy to meet all of the region's electricity needs,'' he says.
Wind-generated energy capacity is expected to continue to grow in the future. The European Wind Energy Association recently revised its 2010 wind capacity projections for Europe from 40,000 megawatts to 60,000 megawatts. The American Wind Energy Association points out that 60,000 megawatts is equivalent to 20 to 25 new 1,000-megawatt nuclear power plants.
France announced in December 2000 that it would develop 5,000 megawatts of wind-generating capacity during this decade.
Offshore wind projects are now very popular in many countries in Europe. Early in 2001, Britain sold offshore lease rights for an estimated 1,500 of wind-generating capacity to several different bidders, including Shell Oil.
Ireland approved plans last week for the construction of the world's largest offshore wind farm, with 520 megawatts of energy output, to be built on a sandbank in the Irish Sea south of Dublin. When completed, the 200 turbines are expected to produce 10 percent of the country's electricity needs.
''Today heralds the dawning of a new age of clean, green energy, harvested from two plentiful renewable sources, the sea and the wind,'' said Frank Fahey, Ireland's Marine Minister, at a lease signing ceremony in Dublin.
In the United States, wind power has been growing ''by leaps and bounds,'' according to Brown. The 300-megawatt Stateline Wind Project under construction on the border between the western states of Oregon and Washington will be the world largest ''wind farm.''
Several developing countries have also jumped on the wind power bandwagon. Argentina said it would develop 3,000 megawatts of wind- generating capacity in Patagonia.
A report from Beijing in May indicated that China would develop up to 2,500 megawatts of wind-generating capacity by 2005. Earth Policy Institute's Brown says China could easily double its current electricity generation from wind power alone.
Wind power advocates argue that governments need to do more to encourage wind farms and other renewable energy sources.
U.S. President George W. Bush's proposed national energy strategy, a version of which passed by the House of Representatives, for example, calls for extending federal wind energy production tax credit and for a review of previously proposed cuts in federal renewable energy research and development funding.
But environmentalists and the wind industry argue that the energy plan focuses too much on fossil fuels, especially coal, even though world coal use has declined some 11 percent since 1996. Further action, they say, is needed to develop a serious wind energy agenda.
''There is still much to be done if we are to have an energy policy that is truly balanced among conventional energy sources, efficiency, and renewables,'' says Randall Swisher, executive director of the American Wind Energy Association.
Copyright 2002 IPS