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Seen from on high

Establishing the annual status of the world's wind markets is not just a bean counting exercise. At the risk of repetition from previous issues of Windpower Monthly, our reports sum up the year's events, including details of regulatory structures for the less well known markets. They also provide a succinct overview of what is expected in the year to come. It all adds up to a valuable reference foundation. The advantage we have over other market intelligence reports is the scope of our reach. Offshore, however, the tenor of our reporting is not as upbeat. There are plenty of grandiose plans, but precious little construction activity on most of them.

Counting wind power megawatts is not an exact science. Is a 30 turbine project online when three of the turbines still need to be connected? Is it fair to count wind plant that have stood still for the past several months and may never operate fully again? If two competing renewable energy bodies deliver two official national totals for their country, which one is most likely to be right? Faced with three contradictory totals from three sources, is it safer to believe the utility's claim for what it has connected to its grid, the figure from manufacturers for how much they delivered, or the claims of developers (often trying to outdo one-another) for what they have installed? And then there is the propaganda element: what to do about so-called "official" statistics, when it has clearly been in the interest of the megawatt counter to make one year look relatively better than another by moving projects at will across the January 1 marker.

The market status reports from around the world in this bumper issue of Windpower Monthly touch on more than 30 countries. Putting together our special status issue each winter is a monumental task. It involves all the correspondents (currently 19) and is enough to drive editors to drink. For the most part it is also a thankless task. Woe betide us if we get a country total four or five megawatts wrong, especially if the wronged country has only 20 MW or so to its name.

Short of operating a global fleet of windmill-spotting helicopters -- capable of spying whether electricity is running from the wind plant to the grid -- we are reliant on information provided by industry sources. The accuracy of these, or not, is frequently a reflection of national character. Germany's rigid control of its wind market also extends to its counting of turbines, the results of which it presents each year with meticulous accuracy. Spain, on the other hand, shuns such an ordered approach, with its two industry associations enjoying the chance to compete for the accolade of being the source for a Spanish wind megawatt total. India, for all its enthusiasm and ingenuity, makes Spain look organised.

Country totals are often adjusted along the way after quizzing several industry members, for the most part to avoid double-counting. Heated discussion has been frequent, from Japan, to Finland, to Chile, and seemingly most places in between, before that elusive megawatt total is finally skewered. In the end, common sense has been our ally.

Establishing the annual status of the world's wind markets is not just a bean counting exercise. At the risk of repetition from previous issues of Windpower Monthly, our reports sum up the year's events, including details of regulatory structures for the less well known markets. They also provide a succinct overview of what is expected in the year to come. It all adds up to a valuable reference foundation for getting the most out of our reporting over the next 12 months. The advantage we have over other market intelligence reports is the scope of our reach: local knowledge brought to you by correspondents working on the ground for years, tempered with the editing expertise that 20 years in the business provides. As a news magazine we are also geared to the here-and-now, not market projections that are three months old.

For a snapshot summary of overall market growth -- and a brief run through of which markets are growing, which are shrinking, and which are tipped for stardom -- turn to our market status introduction (page 35). The main message is that wind's five-year compound annual growth rate is an impressive 28.5%, that the growth is becoming more healthily global, and that 2005 is going to be a cracking good year -- at least for land based development.

A waiting game

Offshore, the tenor of our reporting (pages 69-72) is not as upbeat. There are plenty of grandiose plans, but precious little construction activity on most of them. Even the much-vaunted "Round One" of government-supported projects off the UK coast is proceeding far more slowly than expected; just one 90 MW project is set for completion this year. It will be the wind industry's only offshore wind project of any note in 2005.

What seems to be happening is a long drawn out waiting game. Investors in Britain are waiting to see how the first major offshore wind stations fair before taking the next plunge. The Netherlands and Belgium are waiting to learn from common experience of site-permitting, and how to persuade the wind industry to bring jobs to its ports. And Germany is waiting for Britain to pay for the expensive learning curve mistakes that pioneering an industry inevitably leads to.

Perhaps that is only fair. After all, it is German consumers that today are picking up the tab for the huge financial push the country gave to the wind industry in the 1990s. Back then, wind turbine manufacturers could barely find the energy to seriously tackle the British Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation market, so much richer were the pickings in Germany. It was the brave investment by Germany that provided the industry with much of the cash it needed to bring the price of wind power crashing down. If the history of the wind business has taught us nothing else, it is that in the big scheme of things, government support has been a wise investment. What other technology today can provide large volumes of pollution free electricity at an easily affordable price?

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