A struggle in perspective

Click through the headlines in this issue of Windpower Monthly and you'd be forgiven for thinking that here is an industry struggling to survive. France's new market framework is a disaster; Australia is refusing to extend its green power mandate; Europe is not meeting its targets for renewables; US wind development is at a standstill; amendments to wind laws in Germany and Spain are bad news; Britain is not delivering new wind megawatts fast enough -- and UK wind is being subjected to what looks like a media hate campaign to boot (page 36).

So why don't we all give up and go home? The answer to that question also lies in this issue. Just look again. While in Europe renewables in general are not doing as well as expected, wind is recognised as a huge success story. In the United States alone there are more megawatts in serious planning than at any other time in wind's history. A single province in Canada is evaluating bids for 1000 MW of wind. Brazil has picked suppliers for another 1000 MW. Australia has at least that volume in the works and even Britain is achieving impressive growth rates, not least because of its no-messing approach to offshore development.

What's more, the lessons of the past have already taught us that what we see today is the tip of the iceberg. Go back ten years to 1994. Global installed wind power capacity was 3200 MW -- that's a lot less than half the new capacity added last year. In a report from that year, Perspective 2004, the Danish wind industry projected that global wind power capacity would increase to 13,000 MW by 2004, or, if things went really well, to 20,000 MW. Today the world receives electricity from 40,000 MW of wind plant. The report's prediction for Denmark in 1994 was 930 MW by 2004. Denmark today has 3100 MW.

Projections of thousands of megawatts were dizzying numbers ten years ago, laughed at by the conventional power sector and ridiculed by opponents. The industry's predictions today are taken a lot more seriously, at least by the power sector. At wind's current 26% growth rate, it is on track to reach 200 GW by 2010. That's just six years away. Even if only 120 GW is achieved, it is a serious volume of generation. No wonder the electricity supply industry is pressing politicians about who is to pay for upgrades to transmission lines. Transmission, or rather lack of it, is now a serious barrier in all of wind's major markets. Political recognition of the problem and regulatory action to solve it is of paramount importance.

That takes us back to wind power's non-stop struggle. The speed at which wind power has grown has consistently outpaced the ability of existing infrastructures to adapt to its needs. Whether it be building permit systems, grid upgrades, electricity pricing structures or simply the public's acceptance of a highly visible new technology on the doorstep, the wind industry finds itself doing battle. But just because wind is growing fast should not be seen as a reason for slowing it down. What better proof of the fundamental good sense of wind power, both technically and economically, than its success beyond all expectations in a world with most of the odds stacked against it?

For wind to win its battles requires the support of politicians. Without their understanding of the issues, there will be no changes to the rules that prevent infrastructures adapting to new demands. The fact that the conventional power industry is now taking wind power seriously seems to be helping politicians get the message. At state level in both the United States and Australia, wind power has a growing number of keen political supporters. A strong initiative by the Governors of America's Western states is aimed at solving the transmission problem and could end up saving consumers billions (page 33). In the state of South Australia, energy minister Patrick Conlon is furious at the lack of action from Australian prime minister John Howard: "Mr Howard is yesterday's man setting up for The Day After Tomorrow," Conlon stormed last month (page 28). Even in the tiny Netherlands, provincial level support can work wonders, as in Flevoland (page 25).

British irony

Perhaps of greatest significance is the considerable level of political support in Great Britain -- and at national government level. Top British politicians are regularly seen pushing for action on climate change on the world stage. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw just told Americans that failure to tackle global warming carries the greater economic cost. In French newspaper, Le Monde, he described it as "unquestionably the major challenge facing humanity." Meantime at home, the government's Renewables Obligation has created a market of serious potential for wind power.

The sad irony of Britain, however, is that while its wind development is set to catch up with the progress made in leaps and bounds elsewhere in the past decade, media and press coverage appears stuck in a time warp. Another report circulating in the same era as Denmark's Perspective 2004 was Down on the Windfarm, published by an English alternative technology group in1993. Its cover was made up of a collage of press clippings: Question Mark Over Wind Farm Mania; Wind Farms Generate Storm; Councils Pull the Plug on Wind Farms; and more in that vein. They could have been written yesterday. For the British Wind Energy Association, hosting its annual conference this month, it seems that one struggle has only just started.

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