But Will the Growth Continue?
United States wind power capacity increased by over 10 gigawatts (GW) in 2009, 20% more than was added in 2008, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). That brings total U.S. capacity to over 35 GW, more than any other country on the planet, providing 1.8% of our national electric power. Similarly, the demand for small wind systems for residential and small business use (rated capacity of 100 kW or less) grew 15% in 2009, adding 20 MW of generating capacity to the nation.
—Steve Sawyer, GWEC Secretary General
This is impressive as the largest single annual gain in U.S. wind energy capacity, but our nation still lags behind the pace of other countries in renewable energy expansion. Global wind power capacity increased by over 38 GW in 2009, an increase of 41% over 2008 according to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC).
“Even in the face of a global recession and financial crisis, wind energy continues to be the technology of choice in many countries around the world,” said Steve Sawyer, GWEC Secretary General. “Wind power is clean, reliable and quick to install, so it is the most attractive solution for improving supply security, reducing CO2 emissions, and creating thousands of jobs in the process. All of these qualities are of key importance, even more so in times of economic uncertainty.”
China demonstrated a major commitment to renewable energy growth at a breathtaking pace, more than doubling it's wind capacity in 2009. According to the GWEC, China accounted for one third of the total annual wind capacity additions with 13.8 GW of new wind farms in 2009. This took China's total capacity up to 25.9 GW, narrowly overtaking Germany as the country with the second largest wind power capacity behind the U.S. The Chinese government has an unofficial target of 150 GW of wind capacity by 2020, and with the current growth rates, that ambitious target could be met well ahead of time.
Economic uncertainty was a major challenge in 2009, and the U.S. responded to the challenge through new leadership in both the White House and the U.S. Department of Energy, bringing new policies and incentives to the forefront for renewable energy development, including the extension and expansion of tax incentives along with stimulus dollars in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. But will this be enough to foster continued growth?
The forecast for U.S. wind capacity growth in coming years is not so clear. GWEC expects that the global installed wind capacity will reach 409 GW by 2014, growing by an average annual rate of 21%. Asia is expected to outpace both Europe and North America, with the U.S. and Canada as possible laggards in 2010 and 2011 due to legislative uncertainty.
“Our annual report documents an industry hard at work and on the verge of explosive growth if the right policies—including a national Renewable Electricity Standard (RES)—are put in place,” said AWEA CEO Denise Bode. “A national RES will provide the long-term certainty that businesses need to invest tens of billions of dollars in new installations and manufacturing facilities which would create hundreds of thousands of American jobs.”
—Denise Bode, AWEA CEO
Clean energy and economic renewal are necessary partners for a sustainable future. It's time for U.S. policy-makers to determine how to make that more of a priority for our country. Many claim that Feed-In Tariff (FIT) policies, which have driven European renewable energy expansion with guaranteed grid access along with set prices on long-term contracts, just won't work in the U.S. However, the United States and Canada are the only major countries that don't even have federal policies for RES targets, which would drive incentives forward without the tight regulation of FIT. A patchwork of state-by-state (or province-by-province) RES targets doesn't present a clear national priority, and without that—clean energy expansion will lag along with the employment, environmental, and community benefits that come with it.