Last year's guide to developers' planned projects revealed that Europe, the birthplace of wind energy, looked set to lose its crown as the largest region in terms of megawatts in the pipeline to Asia-Pacific.
According to data from Windpower Intelligence, taken at the start of 2013, that certainly is the case — at least as far as onshore wind is concerned. Europe continues to top the total wind projects planned that have progressed enough to have sites acquired, with 73.5GW compared to Asia Pacific's 47.7GW. But the picture changes when you take offshore wind out of the mix: Asia Pacific has the largest overall pipeline of onshore wind with 45.4GW compared with Europe's 41.3GW.
Given that a large amount of Europe's projected offshore capacity — particularly in the UK and France — is attributed to development zones rather than to specific projects, there is no guarantee that all of the 32.2GW offshore capacity in Europe's pipeline will actually be built. Asia Pacific, then, looks assured of remaining wind's busiest region for some time to come.
China - boom or bust?
However, Asia Pacific's powerhouse of wind development, China, has in recent years clamped down on the number of turbines being put into the ground. Whether this downward trend will continue is a moot point. Incoming Chinese president Xi Jinping, due to take the reins of power in March, recently criticised the wind-turbine manufacturing sector for huge levels of overcapacity. This could be seen as ominous for developers if Xi takes a negative view of wind power in general. Alternatively, it could mark a switch in focus from controlling development to controlling manufacturing. Certainly, as we report on page 13, Liu Tienan, head of China's National Energy Bureau (NEB), is optimistic that Chinese wind installation rates will return to growth in 2013. The NEB is targeting an annual installation rate of 20GW by 2015.
According to Windpower Intelligence, there is definitely enough in the pipeline for China to achieve these huge installation rates in the coming years: the country tops national planned projects with sites already acquired, showing 32.6GW of capacity to be developed. It also has the most projects in the pipeline, with 458 recorded to have acquired sites for development.
The top ten global developers by megawatts in project pipelines also includes no fewer than five Chinese developers (see below). The top wind developer in the world is China Guodian with over 5GW. China Datang Corporation (CDT) is at number five with 4GW, China Huadian at six with 3.2GW, Longyuan at nine with almost 3GW and China Guangdong Nuclear Power (CGNP) completing the top ten with 2.5GW in its pipeline.
However, the major Chinese developers are noticeably looking more outside their own market and building projects in emerging wind countries elsewhere in Asia, Australia, eastern Europe and Latin America. This reflects the market's increasing diversity.
Latin American push
Indeed, the only region to increase its overall pipeline over the past year has been Latin America, which now has just under 15GW of projects planned with sites already acquired. This is spread across 293 projects averaging 51MW each and the bulk of development taking place in Brazil, Mexico and Chile. Brazil ranks eighth among all nations' overall project pipelines by megawatt with 5.2GW, but in terms of numbers of projects it is behind only China and the UK with 186 wind farms planned. Mexico is in 11th place with 3.4GW planned, while Chile is number 13 with a pipeline of 2.6GW. However, only 615MW in Chile's pipeline has already secured power purchase agreements (PPAs), compared to 4.8GW in Brazil and 2.4GW in Mexico.
Mexico, perhaps unsurprisingly given its vast expanses of open land, is the third largest nation for average project size, coming in at 162MW. It comes behind New Zealand with an average pipeline project size of 187MW and Australia's 166MW.
Like Canada, which has a pipeline of 7.1GW, as a neighbour of the US, Mexico may well benefit from the late extension of the US's main wind subsidy, the production tax credit (PTC). Huge uncertainty over the extension led to a glut of projects being installed in 2012 - more than 12GW - and precious little being planned for 2013, leading developers to look to neighbouring markets. Indeed, according to Windpower Intelligence's data, the entire US project pipeline with sites acquired at the start of 2013 was just 20GW. Although the PTC extension signed at the start of this year by President Barack Obama lasts beyond one year by applying to projects that only have to start construction this year, the medium long-term pipeline looks unlikely to increase dramatically until developers can gain clarity from something more long term.
With a slow market in 2013, the US has, at the early stages of 2013, fallen out of the top two wind developing nations, leaving only the UK to rival China. The UK, like much of Europe, owes a great deal of its substantial development pipeline to offshore wind. Seven of the ten largest projects currently in the overall global development pipeline this year are UK offshore wind projects, with the largest single planned project announced in 2012 being utility Centrica and Dong Energy's 2.2GW Rhiannon project (see table below).
Both companies feature prominently among the planet's top wind developers, and indeed nine of the top 20 developers have some involvement with European offshore projects.
France comes third in the list of countries for projects announced in 2012 thanks to its offshore tendering rounds and, with the UK at two, it looks likely that, while Europe may have ceded the ground to Asia Pacific as far as onshore wind development is concerned, offshore wind will ensure the wind industry's birthplace continues to punch above its weight in an increasingly global market.