Earlier this week, we reported on last year's record for solar installations in the European Union (EU) – 18.5 gigawatts (GW) of new capacity for a total of 52 GW.
Even as solar accelerates, wind plants in Europe still generate twice as much energy - recently reaching 100 GW, reports the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA).
How significant is this milestone?
For starters, it's twice the installed wind capacity in the US, as of the end of 2011.
It has also helped prevent building dirty power plants - it would take 62 coal-fired plants or 39 nuclear reactors or 52 natural gas generators to produce the same amount of electricity, notes EWEA.
"It would require burning 72 million tonnes of coal annually in coal fired power plants to match Europe's annual wind energy production. Loading that amount of coal on trains would require 750,000 wagons with a combined length of 11,500 kilometres -- the distance from Brussels to Buenos Aires, Argentina," says Christian Kjaer, EWEA CEO.
It took two decades for these countries to reach 10 GW and just 13 years to add another 90 GW - thanks in large part to the EU's target to cut carbon dioxide emissions 20% by 2020 and to country-specific subsidies for renewable energy. Half the capacity was installed in the last six years alone, says EWEA.
"Despite only utilizing a tiny fraction of Europe's vast domestic wind energy resources, wind power is having a substantial impact on Europe's energy security and environment, and benefits us hugely in creating green jobs and technology exports," says Kjaer.
The vast majority of the 100 GW is onshore wind, and big offshore projects are planned. Offshore, would could quickly ramp to 100 GW is being held back by financing, but the biggest obstacle is lack of grid infrastructure.
Some of this year's largest installations in Europe are:
- Greater Gabbard (500 MW) offshore farm developed by SSE and RWE in the UK
- Anholt offshore wind farm (400 MW) developed by DONG Energy off the coast of Denmark
- Ormonde offshore wind farm (150 MW) developed by Vattenfall in Sweden
- Linowo (48 MW) developed by EDF Energies Nouvelles Polska in Poland
- Ausumgaard (12 MW) developed by a private landowner in Denmark
- Akoumia (7.2 MW) developed by Greek power company PPCR on the island of Crete
The UK reached its own milestone of 2.5 GW this month with the opening of the offshore 317 MW Sheringham Shoal project. 60% of EU's wind is located in Britain, over triple that in Denmark, the second biggest market.
During the second quarter, wind-generated electricity amounted to 4.5% of the UK's power supply. Across the EU, wind supplied about 5% of demand, compared with about half from fossil fuels, 28% from nuclear generators and 13% from hydropower, reports Bloomberg.
The EU wind industry has been having a banner year, despite the economic troubles of key wind nations including the UK, which is changing its subsidy policies; and Germany, where grid connection problems have been holding back some projects.
US installations have also accelerated, as developers rush to complete projects before the expiration of the wind production tax credit at the end of 2012.
Recent studies underscore worldwide wind potential, including one that finds wind can supply half the world's power. In the US, for example, wind is capable of providing enough power for the entire east coast.
The expiration of the wind credit has become a major issue in the US President election campaign. Republicans want it to expire to advance their fossil fuels agenda, while the Democrats are advocating an energy mix that supports more wind and other renewable energy technologies. A flurry of lobbying is being supported by both sides.
Here are the 10 biggest onshore wind projects in Europe: