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Wind's wider reach belies ongoing battle

COMMENT: Half of the megawatts in new power-generating capacity installed last year across the world were from renewable sources, the latest report by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, known as REN21, tells us. Wind power installed more new capacity than any other renewable technology, and for the first time more wind power was installed in emerging markets than in its traditional heartlands.

This is good news. Having more renewables on the network will demonstrate their credibility and encourage the adoption of policies that are best suited to these energy sources. It will also force policymakers to put in place the right infrastructure to support their large-scale deployment. The European Commission seems aware of this and is planning to spend an impressive €9.1 billion on energy infrastructure in the EU's budget for 2014-20 (see page 20).

A wider global distribution of wind power is also positive. It should lead to better public understanding — and acceptance — of the benefits of this clean energy source while providing more opportunities for the sector to grow and diversify. No industry has ever become truly successful over the long term without gaining a presence in a significant number of markets. Wind power is well on its way to reaching this crucial landmark.

But the overall picture is not uniformly rosy. Promising new markets such as South Africa are dogged by policy uncertainty and doubts about the nature and duration of any incentives for wind (see page 55). Large global companies will think long and hard about entering what is still an unfamiliar and worryingly unsteady environment.

As our article on wind investment by the oil and gas majors spells out (see page 43), renewable energy — and wind in particular — is still far from being the source of choice for large energy corporations. One of Europe's top-five electricity generators, Germany's RWE, is currently in talks with Russian gas giant Gazprom to find a way out of its home country's nuclear phase-out. One of RWE's aims is to boost its balance sheet so it can expand its renewable-energy operations. But meanwhile it is cheap gas it is turning to, though its price is rising and may continue to do so.

On the good news front, France is finally looking serious about seeking alternatives to its near-complete reliance on nuclear power and has now launched a long-delayed tender for 3GW of offshore wind power. Another 3GW should become available next spring.

A crucial factor for renewables to clinch the deal over other energy sources is often their ability to boost long-term employment. With job markets still depressed in both Europe and the US, any industry that promises to deliver thousands of long-term direct jobs and an even larger number of indirect ones is certain to strike a chord with politicians. Unfortunately, the job-growth agenda can also make wind power more expensive than it needs to be.

In the UK, much-awaited government proposals to reform the electricity market have now been released. They are supportive of renewables but nuclear power too (see page 17). Job creation will again play an important part in how things shape up. As it grows into a mature technology with an established presence in many markets, wind power will have to compete on equal terms with other energy sources — green or otherwise — if it is to attract the political, public and financial support it needs to prosper.

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