How wind power thrived in a year like no other

The first in our three-part market status report finds that despite the coronavirus pandemic, some wind markets came up trumps

The US added 17GW of new capacity in 2020, including Ørsted's 230MW Plum Creek wind farm in Nebraska
The US added 17GW of new capacity in 2020, including Ørsted's 230MW Plum Creek wind farm in Nebraska

This is a feature from Windpower Monthly's April 2021 issue. Click here to read the full edition

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Remember April 2020? The wind industry was celebrating a bumper year of near-record installations, with more than 60GW added in 2019, while starting to face up to the world's biggest collective challenge in living memory: the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ironically, after 12 of the most difficult months for businesses and individuals the world over, the wind sector can celebrate 2020 as a year when — give or take a dozen gigawatts in China, depending on which official statistics you decide to believe — close to 100GW of capacity was added globally.

The largest wind markets, China and the US respectively, did not disappoint. The former had a bumper year, installing more than half of global additions.

And the latter installed more wind power in the last quarter of 2020 than in the whole of 2019. Additions in the US were all the more impressive when you consider that offshore wind development has not even begun in earnest yet — but finally looks to be firmly on the starting blocks.

Europe had a less encouraging year, however, with installations well below the kind of level required under the European green deal to achieve the bloc's climate goals. Onshore wind still dominated, installing about 80% of total wind capacity, in spite of offshore success reaching markets beyond the usual suspects of Germany and the UK — a remarkable 1.5GW of new capacity was installed in Dutch waters alone.

Growth was especially slow in southern Europe, where Italy, Portugal and Romania added very few megawatts collectively. Industry body WindEurope is concerned that repowering, which could represent a major opportunity in more mature markets such as Italy and Germany, is struggling to take off due to permitting constraints.

Outside the US, the Americas added about 5GW, with strong performances from smaller countries such as Argentina and Chile.

The Asia-Pacific region saw record-breaking installations thanks to China's spectacular performance. Conversely, India added a little more than 1GW, representing a measly 3% year-on-year increase. Hopes for the future are pinned on the offshore pipeline building up in places like Taiwan and Vietnam, as well as China.

Progress in the Middle East and Africa was still limited, with 2GW added in total. But after years in the doldrums, South Africa's newly launched round of renewable energy auctions finally offers a glimmer of hope.

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