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Johannesburg justice

When officials from around the world failed to agree a draft plan of action in Bali in May, ahead of next month's World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, commentators began consigning it to the dustbin. Some 80% of the draft action plan may well have been agreed upon, but the remaining 20% contains some of the most important bits -- including those on energy and, in particular, targets for renewable energy development. The facts are there. It is the industry's responsibility to make sure they are widely known.

When ministers and government officials from around the world failed to agree a draft plan of action in Bali in May, ahead of next month's World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, commentators around the globe began consigning the WSSD to the dustbin. Some 80% of the draft action plan may well have been agreed upon, but the remaining 20% contains some of the most important bits -- including those on energy and, in particular, targets for renewable energy development.

The draft had proposed a modest target for 5% of world energy needs to come from renewables by 2010. More aggressively, non-government organisations (NGOs) and countries opposed to the reluctant stance of the US, Canada and Australia had called for 10-20% of energy supply in OECD countries to come from renewables by 2010 and 5% by 2010 for all other countries. Consensus was not reached and time-bound targets remain absent.

"Failure," "derailment" and "disaster" were the words most commonly used to describe the Bali debacle. The temptation for wind pundits, fully occupied by a market growing like wildfire, is to dismiss these antics on the world stage as irrelevant. That would be unwise. If the WSSD cannot be salvaged, it heralds bad news for the wind industry. A future without international targets for renewable energy or timetables for implementation will not be one of fair breezes, especially while subsidies for the fossil fuel and nuclear industries (currently estimated to be $250-300 billion a year) continue unchecked. But that is exactly where the draft plan stands at the moment, despite the good intentions of those behind it.

The doors to potential new markets for wind plant could slam shut. That would consign the industry's long term business plans to the shredder. The old markets -- Denmark, Germany and Spain -- are already stagnating (page 21); Denmark's onshore market peaked last year and Germany's is expected to peak this year. New markets are essential, but they will be limited if today's successes lull the industry into a false sense of security about its buoyant long term future. The energy market, particularly that for renewable energy, is a political beast, under political control. To secure its future, the wind industry must play politics.

In Bali, Corin Millais of Greenpeace (and the coming new chief executive of the European Wind Energy Association) warned delegates that they will "fail in their mandate if they ignore the industrial potential of wind power." The only barrier to widespread implementation, he said, "is political blindness and a woeful ignorance of what wind power can deliver for the world." Millais was referring to the commonly held belief that renewable energy is not affordable. That myth must be exploded: wind power is affordable and available as an economic option for alleviating global warming.

In the next few weeks leading up to August 25, when the WSSD starts, the wind industry must work alongside NGOs to get that message out, to create the much vaunted "political will" that is necessary for the WSSD to succeed in any meaningful way. The groundwork has been laid. Greenpeace and EWEA have mapped out Windforce 12 -- a scenario for wind energy to provide 12% of the world's electricity supply by 2020. Massive investment in promotion of Windforce 12 is needed now for it to have any impact at all on the decisions made in Johannesburg.

Out with sandals and granola

Investment by all the major industry players in a concerted, unified effort could work wonders, even at this late hour. The key message is the commercial viability of wind power. Imagine the impact of that message if it was driven home in Johannesburg by America's major electricity providers, talking about their investments in wind power as a hedge against gas price volatility (page 43); or by representatives from huge respected companies like GE and FKI, both of which have just entered the market as wind turbine manufacturers (pages 20 and 40). As a Dow Jones Newswire put it: "GE's entrance lends suit-and-tie legitimacy to a business once seen as the purview of the more alternative, sandals-and-granola types."

For this reason alone, green-minded NGOs must not be left to work the corridors of the Johannesburg summit on their own, however well intentioned some of the grass roots groups may be. EWEA, still grossly short of funds and seemingly confused about who exactly it represents, lacks the strong voice needed to convince hundreds of decision makers that wind power can provide electricity at competitive rates, reduce overall emissions, and bring huge benefits to economies, particularly in remote and thus often depressed regions. Companies that believe their future, or part of it, lies in wind power must send their own envoys, in a close collaboration that temporarily puts business rivalries aside.

The economic arguments will win the day because they directly address the "we can't afford it" fears of America and other doubters. The facts are there. It is the industry's responsibility to make sure they are widely known. The Bali meeting chairman, Emil Salim, declared that "a wake-up call" had been issued to the world. It certainly has. And if the wind industry hasn't realised it yet, that wake-up call is one it cannot afford to ignore.

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