With maturity comes responsibility

Our annual report on the status of wind power markets across the world is a mammoth task that leaves the editorial team exhausted but elated.

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As the information on each country pours in from our network of international correspondents, we embark on a rollercoaster journey through the ups and downs of government policies, investment models, infrastructure needs and market successes.

What this year's status report has left us with is an awareness that wind power is no longer an "alternative" energy source that occupies a niche space in a few select environments. Wind power now has a significant presence in several countries - none of which has suffered the blackouts or service disruptions that doom-mongers anticipated. The experience of wind power veterans like Denmark or new beacons like Spain has demonstrated that it is possible to use this significant energy source to supply a large part of most countries' electricity needs.

But the most powerful message in this year's status report is that wind power has a truly international footprint. From large developing countries to small ocean islands, no corner of the globe is far from some form of wind power development. Our report this year covers 55 countries, more than ever before.

Glass half full

The fascinating picture emerging from all the countries that are starting to harness their wind resource is that the glass is half full rather than half empty.

Permitting, financing and technical obstacles exist, but they can be overcome.

Despite the still-gloomy economic picture in various parts of the world and the many problems the wind industry has had to face over the past couple of years, the prospects for 2011 are encouraging. No major country, not even mighty China, now expects the triple-digit growth it once enjoyed. But with mandatory renewable-energy targets driving growth in many countries - and increasingly sophisticated policies and investment models in place - there is a wider pool of knowledge for all to share and learn from.

We now know that wind power can supply large amounts of clean electricity at sensible cost. The pride associated with this achievement is accompanied, however, by an acute need to iron out the hurdles the industry still faces.

The vagaries of politics (and policies) can seriously hinder a sector that, by its very nature, needs to make long-term decisions that are not easily reversed. Indecision is the worst enemy of grid development - an absolute must if variable energy sources like wind are to become a significant part of electricity supply. But such policy hurdles have to be, and can be, overcome in places as far apart as the US, Romania and France.

There are several lessons for new countries looking to embark on wind power development: aim high, plan well and do not waver. For the industry - which has battled through some hard times and is on the lookout for new opportunities - the main goals are reliability, efficiency and cost effectiveness.

Wind has crossed many bridges since it started blowing through the power sector all those years ago. Now that this mature technology supports hundreds of thousands of jobs and supplies electricity to millions of people worldwide, it needs to prove its mettle on all fronts.

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