24th Oct 2016


Wind energy in figures

Europe is the world's biggest fan of wind energy, a rapidly growing industry that is likely to continue to dominate the renewable energy market for some time. But other parts of the world, notably China, are catching up fast.

Today, wind turbines dot parts of the horizon in most of the developed world and in a growing part of the developing world.

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  • Balance is shifting to the east on wind energy (Photo: wikipedia)

It is unclear exactly how many there are - there is no global or even European registry - but a rough estimate brings their number to 300,000 worldwide, more than a third of which are in Europe.

While the number sounds relatively high, they do little for electricity consumption. They provide the global population with a mere 3 percent of its total electricity demand - or less than 1 percent of its total energy consumption. In Europe, they meet almost 6 percent of total electricity demand.

There are big differences within the EU.

Denmark leads the way with wind generating a quarter of the country's electricity. Runners-up are those facing the windy Atlantic Ocean: Portugal, Spain and Ireland.

The odd one out is Germany. It is not naturally windy but still fifth on the list when measured in relative terms and first if measured in actual wind power.

Part of the explanation is that 10 years ago, the German government introduced a minimum price guarantee for several kinds of renewable energy, sparking a gold rush by investors.

"Not only from big companies, but also from farmers and other smallholders," says Holger Dreiseitl, spokesperson for the permanent representation of Germany in Brussels. "It gave them certainty."

There are three member states with not a single turbine between them: Malta, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

Slovenia has always wanted to install wind turbines, a government spokesperson explains, but has until now backed down to pressure from environmental groups, afraid that birds might get killed by the spinning structures, some 100 metres in diameter.

Malta, too, has long wanted to generate power from the Mediterranean winds but has until now been dissuaded by "the [small] size of the country ... the extremely high population density [and] ... the depth of the seas around the Maltese islands," a spokesperson noted.

Eastern wind

With the exclusion of hydropower, which generates electricity from flowing water - like dams - and still represents the bulk of renewable energy's contribution to global electricity production, wind is the world's largest renewable energy source.

Over the last 10 years, the amount of wind sourced from wind turbines has grown by around 25 percent annually. The wind energy industry expects to maintain that exponential growth, projecting more than double today's capacity by 2015 and six times as much by 2020.

The EU has always been the frontrunner and still accounts for more than a third of globally produced wind energy. But it is falling behind.

Its capacity grew by only 12.2 percent in 2010 - the latest figures available at the time of writing - compared to almost 25 percent worldwide.

China took the lead and increased its national wind energy capacity by 37 percent - almost half of global new installations. It was the first year that more were installed in developing countries - including China - than in the developed world.

In a sign that the balance might indeed be shifting, Danish turbine manufacturer Vestas, the world market leader, earlier this year announced it will cut more than 2,000 jobs due to competition from China.

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