North American Wind Poised for Growth, but China's Not Standing Idly By

The amount of wind installed in North America could double over the next six years – from 53,000 megawatts (MW) in 2011 to 126,000 MW by 2017.

Although the recession and financial crisis slowed the growth of the wind industry, and North America lags behind Europe and Asia, it’s poised for greater growth over the coming years, says Pike Research its report, "Wind Energy Outlook for North America."

North America (mostly the US) hosts 22% of the world’s wind capacity thanks to larger, more efficient turbines that generate more electricity at lower cost, and supportive government policies such as tax credits. 

Those supportive federal policies are due to expire next year n the US, and given the current political climate their continuation is unclear. Also, the lack of a coordinated policy framework in both the US and Canada has hindered the growth of offshore wind.

Pike forecasts that $820 billion will be invested globally in onshore and offshore wind over the next six years, and $145 billion of that will be in North America. 

The US produces more electricity from wind than any other country – enough to power 10 million homes – but it amounts to only 2.3% of total power generation.

By comparison, Denmark now derives 20% of its electricity from wind, and several other Western European countries are above 10%.

Texas Sets Wind Record

Texas, which leads the US in wind capacity, set a record on October 7, when wind supplied 15.2% of electricity demand to the main grid (ERCOT) – 7,400 megawatts (MW).

Energy was produced by 78% of that grid’s 9400 MW of turbines, double the usual amount. Its previous record was on June 19, when wind supplied 14% of demand.

Government officials credit the growth in coastal wind farms for the record-setting event. Coastal winds are much more consistent, while inland winds tend to blow hardest during off-peak hours and during spring and summer months, when there’s less energy demand. Coastal wind farms now account for over 13% (over 1,200 MW) of the state’s wind output.

And those officials credit wind electricity with helping meet record energy demands this summer when Texas faced grave heat and drought.

Wind construction was advancing at a torrid pace in Texas through 2009, when it began to overwhelm the transmission system. Texas plans to build 2300 miles of new transmission lines by the end of 2013, and as a result, over 1,500 MW of wind will be added in 2012 – 58% of all new energy capacity. 

China’s Wind Total -1,000 GW by 2050

China overtook the US as having the world’s largest wind capacity, with 41 GW at the end of 2010, but it still only amounts to about 1% of its demand.

But by 2050, China could have 1000 GW of wind, according to a study by the country’s National Development and Reform Commission.

That much wind would supply 17% of China’s energy, while  reducing its carbon emissions 1.5 gigatons per year – equal to the combined emissions of Germany, France and Italy in 2009.

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