Although we're constantly hearing about impending doom for the wind energy next year, especially in the context of the expiring production credit in the US, that's just a short term blip in the industry's growth story, says the bi-annual Global Wind Energy Outlook.
Although the industry will slow substantially over the next few years because of lack of direction in US policy, economic conditions in Europe and limits on how much capacity can connected to China's grid, the authors still expect wind to supply about 12% of global electricity by 2020 and 20% by 2030.
"We don't expect significant growth in the Chinese market until after 2015, although it is still likely to be the market leader. Brazil, India, Canada and Mexico are very dynamic markets, but cannot yet make up for the lack of growth in the traditional markets in Europe, the US and China.
"There are many exciting new markets in Latin America, Africa and Asia where we see major potential for growth in the medium to long term; but without a new means for putting a global price on carbon, new demand growth in the OECD borne on a strong economic recovery, or some other unforeseen development, the industry's rate of growth will slow substantially in the coming few years."
By 2020, however, the industry is expected to create 1.4 million wind jobs, employing 2.1 million people around the world.
Over the past 15 years, the industry has seen average cumulative growth rates of about 28% - which brought wind capacity across 80 countries last year to a total 240 gigawatts (GW). 22 countries have more than 1 GW installed.
2011 was the first year that investments in renewable energy plants ($187 billion) exceeded that of fossil fuels ($157 billion). It was also the first time that investments in developing countries, mostly China, exceeded those in advanced nations.
2012 will be a strong year, with the industry expected to add at least another 40 GW, the same amount as last year.
The Global Wind Energy Outlook, produced by Greenpeace and the Global Wind Energy Council, considers three scenarios for the industry's future, looking out to 2020, 2030 and 2050.
These scenarios are measured against two different projections for electricity demand: one based on the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook and another developed by ECOFYS consultancy and researchers at the University of Utrecht that includes assumptions of energy-efficiency improvements.
Under the "Moderate" growth scenario, total wind capacity reaches 759 GW by 2020, supplying 7.7%-8.3% of the global electricity. Add in the right policy support and wind reaches more than 1100 GW or 11.7%-12.6% of the power supply.
What are the "right" policies? Here's what the authors suggest:
An end to partisan bickering over energy policy in the US, which is creating "destructive boom-bust cycles
Resolution of grid, certification, transparency and quality issues in China
Adjustments to the European Emissions Trading System and an overall revitalization of carbon markets, including the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development mechanism, to boost the value of credits;
The political courage to address or eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels
A stable, bankable policy in as many national energy markets as possible
“The most important ingredient for the long term success of the wind industry is stable, long term policy, sending a clear signal to investors about the government’s vision for the scope and potential for the technology,” says Sven Teske, senior energy expert for Greenpeace International.
Read the 2012 Global Wind Energy Outlook: