But the new capacity installed and commissioned in 2013 was about the same as in 2010, and that was generally regarded as a good year. Our report's headline then was: Wind bucks the downturn.
What has changed is where that growth is being generated. In 2013 China alone accounted for nearly 42% of new global wind capacity, practically as much as Europe (33%) and North America (10%) combined. Wind power figures from China often come with a warning attached — may not be connected to the grid. But all the signs are that China is getting to grips with its transmission problems.
A major high-voltage transmission line is being constructed to bring power from the remote north-west regions to the more populous south. And, from this year, more than 60% of the projects in the pipeline will be built in the central and southern regions, closer to electricity demand. China is planning its wind power, not just building it.
Failure to plan ahead accounted for the huge slump in new capacity installed in the US last year, with developers simply riding the year out until the production tax credit kicked in again.
Growth in Europe stood up pretty well overall, led by Germany and the UK, and it was notable that the emerging markets of Poland, Turkey and Romania all added more capacity in 2013 than the mature markets of France, Spain and Italy.
That trend was not lost on the wind industry leaders and managers, gathered for the European Wind Energy Association's (EWEA) annual conference in March, and all keen to discuss strategies for survival in a climate of slow growth in mature markets. More compact than last year's event, and held in Spain where new installations have fallen off the proverbial cliff, the mood among wind's movers and shakers was nonetheless positive.
No one denied it had been a tough year. Vestas' CEO reported on business changes that have been harsh on its workforce, divesting factories and focusing on pure manufacturing practice. Other leaders talked of strategies that moved in the opposite direction, bringing in-house services such as operations and maintenance, or incorporating other renewable energies into their business plans, or separating into onshore and offshore divisions.
The Barcelona sunshine may have helped lift the mood, but Europe's wind business also looked leaner, fitter and more adaptable to change than at last year's EWEA event. Could this be an industry that has learned to live with policy uncertainty and political instability, and one that is getting on with the job of managing assets rather than obsessing over new installations?
What will growth be like this year? Our predictions suggest that for the three mature regions, it will be better than last year, significantly so in the US. But whatever the graph will look like, this year's map on page 24 shows a well-established industry, generating an increasing amount of clean electricity from over 300GW of installed capacity. That all needs to be cared for, improved and updated — which is a business in itself.
Jacki Buist is editor of Windpower Monthly
Asia Pacific leaves others behind
Wind installations in the major wind regions over the past five years (GW)