Several high-profile projects in recent years, such as Global Wind Atlas, seek to rank the wind power capacity of the world’s nations. It’s proven to be a tough thing to do, given how fast public policy can change and the frequency with which private and public investments move around in this fast-growing energy sector.
Nevertheless, whether you’re glancing backward at the last few years of recent wind power development across the globe or ranking countries according to their near-future potential to harness the wind, you’re probably going to keep seeing these four at the top of these lists.
There’s no question that China is a world leader when it comes to driving market growth in the wind power sector. In 2017, China successfully installed 19.7 gigawatts of wind power capacity, which was significantly more growth than any other wind market that year.
Just as importantly, they’ve continued to set ambitious expansion goals for the future. By 2020, China hopes to have successfully installed a combined onshore and offshore capacity of 210 GW in on-grid wind energy capacity. Current projections indicate they may even surpass that goal.
This is not to say that China’s enviable performance in spooling up its wind power market has been without growing pains. In 2015, as much as 15 percent of China’s potential wind power output may have gone to waste due to many causes of curtailment — including grid congestion, oversupply and operational setbacks. Nevertheless, China’s wind model is one worth of envy and emulation and since the country is the world’s top carbon emitter, any actions taken to transition to renewables is worthy of applause.
2. United States
In 2017, the United States installed more than seven gigawatts of new wind power capacity to China’s 19.7. The recent few years have seen considerable growth in the U.S. renewables market, however, keeping the country toward the top of the rankings.
The year 2018 saw the total wind power capacity of the U.S. rise to 90 gigawatts after a first-quarter surge in 2018 of some 626 megawatts in new wind power capacity. To put things in perspective, 90 gigawatts is enough to power 27 million residences.
Experts are calling the current wind power boom in the U.S. “record-breaking” and predict more affordable prices across the board along with steady job growth in the sector as the current slate of near-term projects — valued at 37,794 megawatts in total — come to fruition.
The U.S. is geographically diverse, and wind power development has not been uniform across the country. Texas, Iowa and Oklahoma currently lead the pack in terms of online wind power capacity among the 50 states.
Rounding out the top three countries for wind power, and leading the way on the European continent, Germany installed 6.5 gigawatts of new wind power capacity in 2017, raising the bar over 2016 by an impressive 15 percent.
So far, in 2018, Germany has added 2402 megawatts of wind power capacity — and further boosted the importance of wind power in Germany’s energy portfolio. Standing now at 15 percent of all energy output in the country, wind is Germany’s largest and most successful renewable energy market.
Until recently, the most commonly installed turbines in Germany were rated at about three million kWh per year — or enough to power 1000 homes with “average” electricity needs. Today, however, at suitable sites, it’s more common to find new installations using turbines rated for 6000 homes’ worth of electricity output.
The nation of India has demonstrated some of the most impressive rates of renewable energy adoption among developing economies. In 2017, India installed and brought online more than four gigawatts of brand-new wind power capacity. Not surprisingly, given its vast geographical size as well as its population, Asia is the largest market on earth for wind power investments — and India is handily leading the way there.
At the end of 2018, India’s total power generation capacity from wind installations stood at 35 gigawatts. But by 2022, India’s national leadership hopes that number will have risen to 70 gigawatts in total. For reference, India’s total power generation output from all sources was 351 gigawatts in 2017.
As with the U.S., some Indian states have emerged as leaders within their own country — including Tamil Nadu. This Indian state, situated in the south of the country, places first in terms of wind installation as well as solar installation power generation. Even more impressively, it generates more power from these sources than either Denmark or Sweden, who are themselves angling to become world leaders in renewables.
By 2040, Sweden wants to be among the first countries to generate all of their needed power via renewables.
How can the rest of the world learn from these examples?
It’s become clear that investing in clean energies is a way for countries to attract foreign investment, modernize their aging infrastructure, and to demonstrate, in a serious way, that country’s commitment to cleaner energy generation and a less wasteful footprint on planet earth. There are, however, some lessons worth learning from the countries above.
For example, India’s recent boom in renewables, particularly wind, was hindered slightly by what some energy sector experts have labeled poor public policy. The Modi administration, in July 2018, implemented a two-year import duty on solar panels brought into the country from Malaysia and China, which represent a significant majority of panels used in India. Energy experts blame this bit of policy for the 55 percent drop in new wind power bids between 2017 and 2018.
In addition to maintaining a sound public policy that encourages new domestic and foreign business in this fast-growing sector, the nations of the world must also look to scientifically motivated interest groups when it comes to drawing up requirements for energy company portfolios.
As an example, the Union of Concerned Scientists — ever a vigilant voice in the conversation about global climate change — is one of several groups lobbying the American Congress for stricter Renewable Portfolio Standards for energy companies. Also known as “Renewable Electricity Standard”, these benchmarks describe the portion of a utility company’s power output which must come from a renewable source like wind or solar.
Two-thirds of American states have adopted such standards. Tightening these requirements means doing battle with the fossil fuel lobby, which is a not inconsiderable hurdle — but success means a faster and more aggressive expansion of wind and solar sites across the country.
The Union of Concerned Scientists also recommends a much stronger push for infrastructure projects in general. They note that control stations, transformers and other portions of the electrical grid are increasingly out-of-date, even as power demand continues to rise. Making “the grid” in the U.S. or any other developed nation ready for smarter and more resilient technologies, like wind, means raising and allocating more tax revenue for overhauling our infrastructure.
Ending or dramatically curtailing fossil fuel subsidies is another one of the critical pieces of this puzzle. In 2015 and 2016, in the U.S., subsidies for oil and gas companies cost taxpayers an average of $15 billion per year. Canada ranked even worse. Many oil operations — including 40 percent of those in Texas’ Permian Basin — wouldn’t survive without these subsidies, which probably means their time is up.
Using wind turbines to power our world is manifestly less damaging to the environment than continuing to throw money at fossil fuel interests when it comes to the long-term environmental harm, as well as the immediate footprint of generating facilities. Setting ambitious goals for our worldwide pivot to cleaner energy will transform the economy as we know it. But making it happen, as we’ve just learned, requires a combination of sound economic policy, sensible political priorities and successful communication about the benefits for us all.
- Why Some Conservatives Are Blind to Climate Change
- Can We Really Engineer Our Way Out of Climate Change?
- Climate Solutions Caucus: Are Democrats and Republicans Really Working Together To Solve Climate Change?
- The Candidates That Barack Obama and Donald Trump Are Endorsing
- 14 Famous Female Leaders on Climate Change, Sustainability and Protecting Our Environment
- Rise For Climate: Activists Call for 100% Clean Renewable Energy
Title image credit: Unsplash