Third global growth record running

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The worldwide wind industry set a record for new installed capacity in 1997, amounting to more than $1.5 billion in sales, reports the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) in preliminary results from its annual survey of the global market. At least 1520 MW of new capacity was installed in 1997, says the trade group, based in Washington DC, representing a 22% growth rate over the year before. It was the third consecutive year in which global installed capacity reached a record level, states the AWEA report, released on January 26.

Germany became the world leader in total installed capacity, overtaking the United States in the middle of the year. It also became the first country to pass the 2000 MW mark in installed capacity. Denmark achieved 1000 MW by the end of the year and wind turbines provide 7% of the country's domestic electric consumption. Danish companies also manufactured more than 75% of all wind turbines sold worldwide. In total, Northern and Western Europe accounted for more than three-quarters of the total new capacity installed in 1997.

In contrast, the US market was stagnant last year, due in part to uncertainties because of the restructuring of the country's electricity business, says AWEA. Just 17 MW of new wind capacity was installed in America last year, according the trade group. The rate of installation, however, is expected to grow dramatically, with almost 800 MW planned to be on-line in 17 new facilities by the end of 1999.

That acceleration is largely because of an expected installation rush before the expiration of the federal tax break, currently planned for mid-1999. An additional boost may well occur if the credit is extended. At the end of January, President Bill Clinton proposed a five-year extension of the $0.015/kWh tax credit in his budget for next fiscal year, starting in October 1998 (story page 23).

The 1520 MW of global additional capacity installed last year was higher than the previous record of 1291 MW in 1995. The rate of growth at 22% was slightly slower, down from 24% in 1996 and 35% in 1995.

"Wind energy markets are showing far more stability than they have in the past," says AWEA's Randy Swisher. "European countries have made great strides recently and American power markets are increasingly receptive to wind. Overall, utility scale markets for wind have broadened, making the industry less susceptible to the politics of a select few nations."

AWEA foresees 1998 as strong for the global wind industry. In the US, deregulation leading to customer choice could reinvigorate the domestic market as people are saying they will choose to buy electricity from renewable sources, while Kyoto has underlined the importance of renewables worldwide. Increased cost efficiency will lead to more activity, too.

AWEA summarises the wind market in various countries outside the US. It notes that China's market has been weaker than expected, due to the Chinese government's demand for high subsidies for wind projects from foreign vendors as well as other bureaucratic and financial obstacles.

In India, the market slowed to a near-standstill in 1997 because of a broad economic slowdown leading to tight credit control. The wind resource in some key areas in India may have been over estimated, while technology imported may not have been suitable for the country's low wind regimes. Some projects have been designed and operated poorly, while there have also been problems with the grid, claims AWEA. Thus the government is moving away from tax credits for investment in wind to tax credits for actual power produced, as the latter is far less easily abused.

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