Positive trends in tough times

WORLDWIDE: Windpower Monthly's report of the state of the market expands every year as ever more countries and regions are added to the list of those exploiting this cleanand renewable-energy source.

From the mass of data and analyses collected from around the globe we look for trends in the way the market has moved and where it is going.

This year, growth in traditional wind strongholds has stood out less. In the early 2000s, Germany, Spain and Denmark together made up 85% of all European installed wind. Now these countries represent more like one third of the region's capacity.

All across Europe, governments are losing their nerve on renewables in the face of recession and political pressure to keep consumer fuel bills low. Moratoria on renewable energy in the wind powerhouses of Spain and Portugal have left the industry reeling. Meanwhile, adverse legislation is being considered in Poland, Estonia, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, threatening to stem any wind boom before it has even begun.

Over in the US, wind has had a good year with 6.7GW new capacity installed. 2012 also looks promising. However, this is a short-term bubble caused by a rush to install wind before the likely demise of the lucrative production tax credit at the end of the year. A looming presidential election, in a country where energy policy is highly political, could also spell trouble.

Times are tough even in China, the world leader in total installed wind-power capacity. Manufacturers are experiencing a sharp downturn in profits due to a double whammy of tighter regulations constraining growth and delays in connecting projects to the grid.

With factories bulging due to an annual excess of 20GW of turbines, Chinese manufacturers have been eyeing foreign markets and more wind-turbine supply deals were signed with foreign countries in 2011 than the total sum in 2007-10. It will be interesting to see what effect China's overseas ambitions have on the geographical spread of wind with countries as diverse as Ethiopia and Ecuador expecting delivery of their first Chinese turbines.

Meanwhile, some markets that have been viewed as small players until very recently surged forwards last year. Brazil is taking the world of wind by storm with a 40% rise in installed capacity in 2011. Turkey also saw 40% growth in installed capacity last year, while Romania more than doubled its capacity.

Another area where the industry is hoping for growth is Africa. It had a disappointing year with political instability in the north, and uncertainty over incentives in South Africa created a hiatus. However, 2012 is looking brighter, with several countries including Algeria and Mauritania expecting to build their first wind farms.

It is notable that an interest in wind in many of these emerging markets is not driven by climate-change targets, but by concerns over energy security. Far from getting jittery over a lack of international consensus and targets on climate change, these countries view renewables and wind as their means of escape from hefty bills for imported fossil fuels. The industry is waiting to see if this kind of drive - so different from the previous major markets - will produce a very different list of key markets in the future.

Despite uncertainty in many markets, the global march of wind power continues to spread unabated.

Catherine Early is associate editor of Windpower Monthly