What can we learn from fast-growing wind power markets?

‘Legislate, facilitate, collaborate’ looks like a recipe for success judging from the selection of countries Windpower Monthly examined

This is a feature from Windpower Monthly's September 2021 Insight Report. Click here to read the full edition

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Many lessons have been learned since the first large-scale wind farms started being developed in Denmark and California in the 1970s. Germany and Spain quickly established themselves as leading wind markets over the following few decades, and the North Sea became a beacon for offshore wind development.

Fast forward to the present, and China is by some distance the leading wind market, accounting for more than half of all the capacity added worldwide in 2020. New countries, though, continue to add their names to the expanding list of locations that host wind-power installations.

With the climate crisis firmly on the agenda, wind power must now step up to deliver highly ambitious installation targets. The time seems right to turn the spotlight on a handful of markets across the globe to see what has worked and what hasn't.

Countries as far apart as Australia, Belgium, Finland, Mexico and South Africa all managed to achieve a healthy percentage growth in installations over the 2015-2020 period. So, how did they do it? What do they have in common?

In megawatts, their additions are dwarfed by the usual suspects, of course. And other, often smaller, markets grew even faster in percentage terms. But these five countries were already above or near the 1GW mark of installed wind power in 2015, making them sufficiently well established to be representative of several other markets in their regions.

While it would be unwise to draw general conclusions from a small sample of countries, a few clear trends emerge from this bird's eye view across the globe.

Australia teaches us that supportive government policy has a strong correlation with successful wind power deployment. It needs to be coupled with visibility for business, however.

Which is where strong, long-term targets come in — crucial for stimulating markets and allowing supply chains to develop and prosper. When they are missing or unclear, investment in the industry tends to dry up and be redirected elsewhere. This is a problem currently facing Mexico, whose healthy project pipeline is at risk of being derailed by political volatility.

Well-designed auctions and corporate power purchase agreements have helped Australia and Finland achieve success.

Countries that enjoy the dual luxury of plenty of space and strong, consistent winds are naturally at an advantage when it comes to wind power development. But Australia and Mexico both demonstrate that a collaborative approach is also essential.

Conversely, siting controversies have hindered onshore wind development in Belgium, although its offshore market demonstrates the value of facilitating developers to secure permits for developing their projects — and to make amendments as the situation demands. Finland's onshore market has also benefited in this way.

Of course, there isn't much point in generating large volumes of wind energy if it can't be delivered where it is needed. Understandably, grid connections rank high among the factors for success — or failure. In South Africa, locating capacity in the vicinity of the largest demand centres has been a government goal to satisfy fast-growing demand in a country plagued by power outages.

Read more features for Windpower Monthly’s September Insight report

New era brings wind power developers to Australia

Belgium builds on early entry into offshore wind sector

Finland shows the world how to get onshore wind right

Political support spurs wind power growth in South Africa

Political u-turn shackles Mexico's booming wind sector

Offshore wind sector targets rapid growth beyond Europe

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