Wind power growth still surging where strongly supported

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Double-digit growth continued in the global wind market in 2013. Of today's 318 gigawatts (GW) total generating capacity, 35 GW was added in 2013 alone. However, this growth (12.5 percent increase over 2012) was a significant drop from the average growth rate over the last 10 years (21 percent). Overall investment declined slightly from $80.9 billion in 2012 to $80.3 billion in 2013, write Worldwatch Research Associate Mark Konold and Climate and Energy Intern Xiangyu Wu in the Institute's latest Vital Signs Online trend (www.worldwatch.org).

In 2013, offshore wind capacity continued to see impressive growth as projects became larger and moved into deeper waters. Until recently, deep-water offshore wind has developed on foundations adapted from the oil and gas industry, but deeper waters and harsher weather have become formidable challenges requiring newly designed equipment. Shipbuilders are expanding to make larger vessels to transport bigger equipment and longer and larger subsea cables to more-distant offshore projects.

These trends have kept prices high in recent years. As of early 2014, the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for offshore wind power-which includes the cost of the plant's full operational and financial life-was up to nearly $240 per megawatt-hour (MWh). By comparison, the LCOE of onshore wind installations in various regions of the world is under $150 per MWh, having fallen about 15 percent between 2009 and early 2014. 

Onshore, wind-generated power is becoming more cost-competitive against new coal- or gas-fired plants, even without incentives and support schemes. Over the past few years, capital costs of wind power have decreased because of large technological advances such as larger machines with increased power yield, higher hub height, longer blades, and greater nameplate capacity (which indicates the maximum output of a wind turbine).

Tighter competition among manufacturers continues to drive down capital costs, and the positioning of the world's top manufacturers continues to shift. The top 10 turbine manufacturers captured nearly 70 percent of the global market in 2013, down from 77 percent the year before. 

In an effort to maintain profitability, manufacturers are trying new strategies, such as moving away from just manufacturing turbines. Some companies focus more on project operation and maintenance, which guarantees a steady business even during down seasons and can increase overall value in an increasingly competitive market. Some manufacturers are also turning to outsourcing and flexible manufacturing, which can lower overall costs and protect firms from exchange rate changes, customs duties, and logistical issues associated with shipping large turbines and parts.

Country Highlights from the Report:

  • Among the world's regions, the European Union is in the lead for installed wind power capacity. Its 37 percent share of global capacity edges out Asia's 36 percent.  However, the European wind market slowed in 2013. The two most dynamic markets were Germany, which added 3 GW to bring its total to 34.25 GW, and the United Kingdom, which installed nearly 2 GW, much of which was offshore installations.
  • In 2013, China installed 16.1 GW of new wind power capacity, 24 percent more than it added the previous year. By the end of 2013, total installed wind capacity there measured 91.4 GW. 
  • In India, government policies in support of wind power have lapsed. Only 1.7 GW were installed there in 2013, compared with a record 3 GW in 2011. To return to more robust growth, the Indian government reintroduced its generation-based incentive for wind and solar power projects between 100 kilowatts (kW) and 2 megawatts (MW).
  • The United States now has 61 GW of wind power capacity installed. But the expiration of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) at the end of 2013 led to factory closures and layoffs due to the scarcity of new turbine orders. Renewal of the PTC was proposed as part of a larger bill in the spring of 2014. If it passes, it could mean an uptick in new wind power projects in 2014 and 2015, but it appears the bill will be stalled until after this year's mid-term elections.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, and the Middle East saw only 90 MW of new wind power additions in 2013. Taken together, these three regions have 1,255 MW of installed capacity. 

Continuing its drive to increase energy security and diversify supply, Latin America added almost 1.2 GW of new capacity, bringing the region up to 4.8 GW by the end of 2013. A big factor in the region's wind expansion last year was innovative policy approaches taken by Brazil and Uruguay.


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