Institute charts dramatic growth

World wind generating capacity made dramatic gains in 2001, climbing by 5500 MW to an estimated 23,300 MW, says a new report from America's Earth Policy Institute. The 31% jump continues a growth pattern that has seen global installed capacity increase nearly fivefold since 1995 while the use of coal to generate power dropped 9% over the same period.

Wind's cumulative capacity, says the institute, is now enough to meet the residential needs of 23 million people, equal to the combined populations of Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. "As generating costs continue to fall and as public concern about climate change escalates, the world is fast turning to wind for its electricity," states the report.

Two-thirds of the capacity added in 2001 was concentrated in three countries. According to the institute Germany installed 1890 MW to bring its total to 8000 MW, more than a third of the world's total -- though Germany reports an even greater increase (page 8). The United States added 1600 MW, a 63% hike, while Spain installed 1065 MW.

There are signs, says the institute, that wind's growth may be less concentrated in so few countries in the future. Once a country has developed 100 MW, the report argues, it tends to move quickly to develop its wind resources. As of early 2002, 16 countries representing half the world's population, had crossed that threshold and entered the "fast-growth phase."

As impressive as wind's recent growth are the plans for future development, says the institute, with thousands of megawatt on the drawing board in countries like France, Argentina, China, Germany, the UK and the US. And as wind's costs continue to fall, it opens up even more opportunities. "Low cost electricity from wind brings the option of electrolysing water to produce hydrogen, which can easily be stored and used to fuel gas-fired turbines in backup power plants when wind power ebbs," the report says.

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