Wind resilient in economic storm

Ten years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers sparked the great financial crisis, and you will be hard-pressed to find an economist who doesn't think that it could happen again, soon.

Booming stock markets are only disguising the fact that debt-to-GDP ratios remain high, growth in most markets is sluggish despite historically low interest rates, and average wages have yet to recover to pre-2008 levels.

The global wind-power industry felt the chill winds of recession as investment in many markets dried up and governments backed away from pursuing more ambitious clean-energy targets. Spain provided the clearest example. One of the world's fastest-growing wind markets saw new build at a virtual standstill between 2011 and 2017. Only now are signs of life returning to Spain’s wind sector.

But in general, wind power has proved itself a resilient competitor in the austerity-age energy economy, despite sustained periods of low oil and gas prices generated by the US fracking boom, and the growing cost-competitiveness of solar PV.

In the four years from 2010, annual installation of grid-connected turbines averaged 38.25GW. In the following four years, the average was 53.5GW, 45% higher. Wind took a hit, but it bounced back pretty quickly and with an increasingly compelling economic case in both Capex and Opex terms, onshore and offshore.

Arguably, development has been hindered more by austerity-age politics than economics. Right-wing administrations, climate-change deniers and fossil-fuel/nuclear interests are very hard to separate.

Personal insights

We feature two CEOs of major wind-power companies in this issue, both new to their roles this year, both keenly aware of the economic and political pitfalls in front of them.

Philippe Kavafyan heads MHI Vestas, the Japanese-Danish joint venture set up to keep Vestas’s offshore division afloat when the firm was feeling the full effects of the economic downturn. The class-leading V164 turbine, now operating at what has recently become the world’s largest offshore wind farm, can only be counted as a good result from that crisis-driven decision. Kavafyan explains how he plans for MHI Vestas to build on that success as offshore wind stretches beyond Europe.

Adam Wright leads MidAmerican Energy, one of the biggest utility/developers in the US, owning and operating more than 4.4GW of wind in Iowa. He outlines his vision for — and confidence in — US onshore wind as it faces a post-PTC future.

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