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TIME TO TAKE STOCK

Wind Power Monthly's editor takes stock of the status of wind power in 1995 as reflected in the magazine's editorial column over the year. Topics as wide ranging as the cyclical swings of the wind business, the dangers of selling wind power too cheaply, the shame of unethical behaviour, the might of the consumer, European budget fiddles, and the frightening short-sightedness of the power sector establishment have all been discussed. The political climate for wind has warmed and it is on agendas around the world. Consumers have a better understanding of the role renewable energy can play and most are now willing to pay more for clean power. This is having its effect on national governments and legislation to help wind into the market is becoming the norm rather than the exception. The battle is far from won, though. The wind industry is new and therefore vulnerable.

We've reached the time of year for taking stock, for reflecting on the successes and failures of the past 12 months, for re-focusing on goals and for changing our perspective on the future where necessary. The past 12 issues of this magazine are a good starting point for assessing the status of wind power anno 1995. Topics as wide ranging as the cyclical swings of the wind business, the dangers of selling wind power too cheaply, the shame of unethical behaviour, the might of the consumer, European budget fiddles, and the frightening short-sightedness of the power sector establishment have all been put through the mill in this column. Food for thought indeed.

One thing is certain: the political climate for wind has warmed. The change has been so slow that it is almost imperceptible, but it is there. Instead of being a technology of the future, wind energy is being recognised as a necessity of today. On agendas around the world -- whether dealing with aid to the developing world, with measures to reduce CO2 emissions or with research priorities -- wind now has a rightful place. And, as the European Commission has learned, woe betide those who forget it (page 21).

To borrow a phrase from former US president George Bush, this change in the attitude of higher authorities is having a beneficial "trickle down" effect. With a greater awareness of where electricity comes from -- and the social and environmental costs associated with its production -- consumers have a better understanding of the role renewable energy can play. When asked, most are now willing to pay more for clean power. Such consumer awareness is having its effect on national governments. Legislation to help wind into the market is becoming the norm rather than the exception. In this month's issue alone, we report on a substantial injection of public funds into the Swedish wind programme (page 16), the launching of an action plan in Denmark (page 7), and a request from the UK government for more bids to supply wind plant (page 14). Even in the US, where budget cutting frenzy is at its height, politicians have moved to rescue the one-and-a-half-cent "production tax credit" for each kilowatt hour of wind generated -- sending a much needed positive signal to the several utilities with major wind projects in the works (page 17). This year has also seen an agreement on the price to be paid for wind power delivered to the grid in the Netherlands, firming up a market which had become decidedly wobbly after wind subsidies were axed. Though the price is low, two provisions for tax write offs, plus exemption from a general energy tax being introduced in January, should get things moving again. Meantime in Germany, politicians are standing firm against a year-long utility onslaught on their green energy policies. The utilities are clearly running scared as wind moves in on their monopoly.

Slowly but surely we are moving away from polluting fossil fuel monsters and the nuclear threat. Technology advances now mean that electricity generated by decentralised, small, flexible units such as wind plant can be distributed effectively, while security of supply is maintained. What's more, this is just the kind of power plant which is best suited for most developing countries. Recognition of these advances and their benefits by the powers-that-be is what has come about -- recognition by the World Energy Council, by oil giant Shell, by governments and even by economists.

The battle is far from won, though. The wind industry is new and therefore vulnerable. Technology failures are still occurring with irritating frequency -- blades should not be dropping off what is supposed to be the crème de la crème of today's technology. The pressure to reduce costs is threatening to become unbearable in some quarters, particularly in the UK. New markets seem to be in short supply too -- only Ireland and New Zealand come to mind. Most worrying of all, though, is India. As Windpower Monthly will report in the new year, wind's fastest growing and largest market is attracting trouble with a big "T." Not only are stories of disastrous projects starting to emerge, the country is being viewed by unsavoury elements in the West as a huge dumping ground for outdated wind turbines. How very foolish. Time indeed to re-focus on goals and adjust perspectives accordingly.

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