Windicator: Provisional estimates suggest China could boost slowing capacity gain figures

WORLDWIDE: Although global wind capacity now comfortably exceeds 200GW, growth may be slowing down. The current world total shown includes a provisional estimate of 50GW for China, but there is some uncertainty over this figure since various authorities quote differing values and it is not clear how much capacity is operational.

If Chinese capacity is taken out of the total, a statistical analysis of progress in the rest of the world over the past two years suggests the underlying growth rate for 2011 would slow down to some 22GW, which represents a growth rate of about 15%.

It was unrealistic to expect global growth rates of around 25-30% or more to continue indefinitely. But if the incremental capacity installed in China in 2011 turns out to be as much as around 20GW — as one authority suggests — worldwide capacity added in 2011 will be about 42GW, taking the total to 230GW.

Click here for installed-capacity data for Europe, Middle East/Africa and Asia Pacific

Click here for installed-capacity data for Latin America and North America

The upper end of the likely range - taking into account the possibility of an end-of-year "rush" elsewhere - is around 240GW. This is in line with other estimates and would correspond to a 26% annual growth rate.

Again excluding likely top-ranked China, the star performers in megawatt terms up to around November have been, in order: the US, India, Germany, Canada, Italy, France, the UK and Sweden. All these added more than 500MW each.

In terms of percentage increases among major players since 1 January 2011, Sweden heads the list with a 27% year-to-date rise, followed by Turkey (25%), Canada (20%), Brazil (20%), India (19%) and Greece (15%). The increased geographical diversity in this list suggests that there are sound prospects for future growth as no single political framework dominates. If 20GW is confirmed for China, that would mean a45% increase.

With the competitive position of wind becoming stronger, the outlook is bright. This is reflected in developments reported by Windpower Intelligence, this magazine's data unit. The long-awaited buildup of capacity in South America seems likely to take off and there are also encouraging signs from Australia. Continued growth is expected this year in both Europe and North America.

With public perception of nuclear harmed by the problems in Fukushima, Japan, wind seems likely to retain its position as a leading low-carbon technology. Onshore wind in many places is now cheaper than nuclear and is only challenged by geothermal electricity - in locations where it is readily accessible - and by hydropower in places where high load factors can be achieved and the space is available.

Of the emerging technologies, developments in wave and tidal stream energy are moving forward slowly and costs are uncertain. Carbon-capture-and-storage technology applied to coal or gas-fired generation is seen as a competitor to renewable sources, but would not be carbon free and is still in the demonstration stage.

Solar energy is a strong challenger, with costs falling rapidly, but its generation costs are still much more expensive than wind. It is ideally suited to off-grid applications, where its main competitor is diesel fuel that needs to be transported over long distances.

Given the enormous size of the offshore wind resource, it is not surprising that considerable efforts are being devoted to reducing generation costs. A number of authorities expect these to fall by around 20% or more in the next ten years, making the technology significantly more attractive.

Against a backdrop of uncertain fossil fuel prices, the stability of wind prices — whether onshore or offshore — is a definite plus.

The quarterly Windicator is an indicator of the state of play. Changes in the table can be corrections received rather than additions or subtractions. We welcome corrections.

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