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Sector has come far, over to the politicians

Four years ago, we put together our first list of leaders in wind. It was 2011 and, having reached over 200GW installed capacity, the market was no longer a niche industry.

It had become a global business and needed influencers who could continue the growth and measure up in the wider world. It was a time of fragile wind stock prices, tightening regulations and subsidies, and overshadowed by a constant need to reduce costs to be suitably competitive.

The leaders clearly achieved success — we now have double the installed capacity of 2011.

The leaders' list became an annual fixture, with the bosses of the key wind-turbine manufacturers usually featuring at the top. For that we credit the need of purchasers to have the best technology, the latest cost-saving devices and the most efficient operating and servicing provisions available for their wind farms. Their influence is in no doubt there. And with consolidation among these manufacturers, it could be argued that they have even more clout in the industry than yesteryear's leaders.

Outside the industry, however, the influence of wind's leaders will be put to the test at the COP21 UN climate summit in Paris at the end of the year. There the wind industry will come up against the formidable power of the coal, oil, gas and nuclear industries — all still bigger, more experienced and with much deeper pockets than wind.

It would be encouraging to think that a leading politician would make the case for wind in Paris, but it doesn't seem likely. As our leaders list this year's demonstrates, wind's proponents in that arena are in short supply. Three of the five politicians on our list have seen through cuts to renewables support on their watch: Germany's Sigmar Gabriel, China's Shi Lishan and the UK's Amber Rudd.

However, unlike in 2009 when COP19 in Copenhagen proved a devastating blow to the hopes of the more youthful renewables industry, wind energy today can offer some excellent figures to prove its financial worth. While in 2009 wind was failing to match coal and gas prices — which had dropped after the economic turmoil of 2008 — wind costs have continued to fall, and current comparative analysis is likely to show nuclear as the only electricity source potentially cheaper than onshore wind.

Likely candidates

That gives credence to the possibility that US energy secretary Ernest Moniz (number 20 in our list) may be a defender of renewables in Paris - he has already acknowledged wind's importance and spoken of a need to expand its reach across the US.

And if he is in doubt about its value, he need only look at the number of US corporations buying into wind energy to recognise the commercial sense in renewables, whether it be saving on electricity bills or seeking public approval — most households will have products from Procter and Gamble, the latest to sign up for wind energy.

Canada too can provide some renewables cheer, following the unceremonious removal from power of prime minister Stephen Harper's right-wind administration, wedded to fossil fuels and contemptuous of climate change. He was behind the environmental curve, and he's paying for it now.

Jacki Buist is editor of Windpower Monthly

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