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The market today

A global growth rate of 22% and more than 1500 MW of new wind in 1997 is impressive. Nonetheless, to get back on track for the 11400 MW predicted for 2000, the industry needs to get at least 2200 MW installed in 1998. With Europe on its current track and with Asia ticking over at 200 MW a year, this target does not seem far fetched. If India starts to move again and China follows suit, not to mention the markets of Latin America, Australia and New Zealand, that figure might well appear pessimistic in a year's time.

Annual statistics of installed wind power capacity -- how much has been installed where and the global and technical development trends thus revealed -- have been flooding in for 1997 over past weeks. The information is gathered by a variety of national organisations, in a variety of formats. But combined, it provides a rough and ready picture of the market status of wind energy today, as this issue reveals. More than 1500 MW of new capacity was installed globally in 1997, a record amount for the third year running and some 230 MW more than in 1996. Europe was responsible for more than two-thirds of this growth, with Germany (530 MW), Denmark (300 MW) and Spain (200 MW) leading the way. The average size of new wind turbine is around 600 kW.

Our status reports (from page 29) concentrate on the European markets, most of which are in the process, or on the verge, of change. In the UK, the head on clash between the government's policy of highly competitive market stimulation, and the desire of the people to protect remote landscapes, is close to checkmate. Something has to give. In the Netherlands, the country has just launched an exciting and ambitious market for trade in "green labels," in which utilities have to meet quotas of renewables supply; a test run last month brought smiles to the faces of the wind lobby. In Germany, where a general election looms along with liberalisation of the electricity market, subsidies for wind energy will continue to be a subject of hot debate. And in Spain, a fledgling wind industry is now consolidating, with licensed manufacture of foreign wind turbines booming in regions where jobs and new businesses are welcomed with open arms.

Denmark, wind power's oldest market, is the noted exception to all this flux. Here wind power is settled in a period of steady expansion. More wind capacity was installed in Denmark in the past three years than in the previous 20, and last year electricity from the wind increased by 50%. The 2000 GWh provided 6.3% of Denmark's consumption -- and had it not been for poor winds in 1997 that figure would have been 7%, not far from the magical 10% of a country's electricity supply.

In the rest of Europe it is interesting to note how Germany's impressive world lead is having a spin-off effect on its neighbours: Austria and now Switzerland, countries without notable wind resources, are looking at ways of stimulating markets. Even more surprisingly, not only is neighbouring France showing signs that its love affair with nuclear is waning, last month it accelerated its wind programme with the announcement of an imminent request for 100 MW (page 21). Promotion of renewable energy in Europe is fast becoming the norm rather than the exception.

A global growth rate of 22% and more than 1500 MW of new wind is impressive. Nonetheless, it falls short of the predictions made by at least one of wind energy's foremost market observers. In his World Market Update 1996, Birger Madsen's projection for 1997 was 1620 MW, 100 MW more than was actually achieved. To get back on track for the 11400 MW predicted for 2000, the industry needs to get at least 2200 MW installed in 1998. Is that likely and where will it come from?

The trump card

The United States could, at long last, provide at least part of the answer. Texas will see more than 100 MW of wind stations built over the next year or so. The announcement that Central and South West -- after Enron the state's largest power company -- has chosen wind to meet the entire 75 MW of renewable energy it requested last year is good news indeed (page 20). Especially when neither this project, nor the 35 MW Big Springs wind plant, have come about because of government support programs, or because of utility deals with states, which allow risky nuclear storage, or grant permits to pollute. In Texas the people are leading with calls for clean power, and the utilities are following -- with enthusiasm. The oil state's long history of energy independence makes using local resources a natural choice. The two Texas wind projects are founded on traditional supply-and-demand economics. Their successful completion will prove to Americans that wind energy can deliver, just like any other business. From that point on, the market should unfold, especially with the federal production tax credit not only compensating for some of the head start given to fossil fuel and nuclear, but also encouraging confidence in the political future of clean power.

The 100 MW in Texas is not alone. About 60 MW is almost certain to come on line elsewhere in the US this year -- in Wyoming, Wisconsin and Colorado. Meantime, 42 MW is slated for Iowa, though a start date awaits, 30 MW in Oregon is pending, and in Minnesota, construction of 100 MW of Zond turbines on Buffalo Ridge is under way, though with major delays. Even though other long awaited US projects -- some big -- seem to be stuck between conception and contract, it would seem safe to say that within a year or so, at least 300 MW of new wind should be running in the US.

With Europe on its current track -- where along with Spain, Italy too is providing new impetus -- and with Asia ticking over at 200 MW a year, a global target of 2000 MW does not seem far fetched for 1998. If India starts to move again and China follows suit, not to mention the markets of Latin America, Australia and New Zealand, that figure might well appear pessimistic in a year's time.

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