Political will is catching up with technology

If you are looking for one explanation why the UN climate change talks in Paris last December ended in agreement, while those in Kyoto in 1997 failed, the Noordoostpolder repowering project in the Netherlands provides a pertinent example. Constructed in 1991, its 50 old turbines are now being replaced by just 12 new ones, but with a six-fold increase in installed capacity.

The negotiators at Kyoto can perhaps be forgiven for not foreseeing the remarkable progress wind-power technology would make. Delegates in Paris were rather more aware that wind (and solar) now provide a realistic alternative to fossil-fuel energy generation.

Technological advances coupled with the near-universal recognition of the effects on the planet of pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere created the recipe for a successful outcome in Paris. The climate-change deniers were left barking on the sidelines, their increasingly desperate attempts to deny the scientific consensus growing ever more risible.

Case in point

On this point, we were intrigued by the audience's reaction to the denunciations of climate change by a right-wing European member of parliament on a recent UK political panel programme. They neither applauded nor heckled; they merely laughed.

Far too many people around the globe have suffered the effects of floods, droughts and poor air quality for the politicians not to take heed.

The euphoria of reaching agreement — a huge diplomatic achievement in itself given that nearly 200 countries were involved - will soon dissipate. Then comes the much trickier part of turning the pledges into meaningful action.

Wind power has an important role to play if those pledges are to be fulfilled. Unlike, say, carbon capture and storage, it is a mature industry with a proven track record in delivering clean energy at an ever more competitive cost.

Our annual awards for the best turbines, blades, drivetrains and innovations show clearly that the pace of progress is being maintained. Higher power outputs, taller towers and longer blades are making onshore wind viable in the sort of low-wind, complex-terrain sites that would have ruled them out for development only a few years ago.

A new generation of multi-megawatt machines is driving down the cost of offshore wind. Innovative designs to withstand typhoons in deep water, far-from-shore sites are emerging. Modular construction techniques are enhancing manufacturing quality and integrity while easing transport and installation. Advanced testing rigs are cutting the time and expense of bringing new products to market.

Where there's the political will, there's invariably a way. The COP21 talks demonstrated that, not before time, the political will to act on climate change now exists and, while not entirely unanimous, it is certainly widespread.

Peer pressure over the coming years will make it harder for those developed countries still dragging their heels on cleaning up their energy generation to carry on in that vein. But it is the wind industry's past and future technological improvement that will make excuses for inaction look increasingly threadbare.

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