Of all the renewable technologies open to us these days, there’s no doubt that wind is the outright winner in the capacity and cost race, and more specifically, onshore wind, those gleaming white towers some countries are lucky (and tolerant) enough to have dotting their countryside and coastal regions.
Global wind deployment was once again up last year, this time by a relatively humble 6%, equating to just shy of 42GW of energy capacity installed, when compared to the average of 23% for the five years leading up to 2010, but is nonetheless signs of rampant and continued uptake the world over. Asia takes the biggest bite, with 52.1% of the global share, most of that in China, in which a recent study undertaken by multiple parties has concluded that Chinese capacity could reach 300GW by 2020, and 400GW by 2030; they are absolutely HUGE numbers, and if achieved, mark a seriously devoted agenda from the communist-cum-capitalist nation.
Closer to home, Europe has fallen in the rankings, taking just 24.5% of new installations for 2011, with again, a large majority of that down to one country, Germany, whose brilliant FiTs and policies allow for cost-effective and quick deployment of wind turbines throughout the country to the tune of almost a 1/3 of all European cumulative additions.
However, a draft government regulation released a few weeks ago in Germany seems to be stifling this growth just as it gets some real pace, or at least in the offshore department. Offshore has unfortunately been a much less avidly followed form of wind energy, due to its high costs, difficult maintenance and installation issues and generally poor policy and regulation worldwide, but Germany has always been one of the leaders. This new announcement would slash incentives for offshore generation prices, from 1 Euro/MWh to 0.75 Euros; whilst this cuts costs slightly for consumers on the renewable section of their bills, it will ultimately put future projects off and may stunt growth of a crucial area for the industry.
On the plus side, the UK achieved a milestone for wind energy generation recently by producing 4.1GW of electricity, over 10% of the country’s needs, using those spinning blades to boil cups of tea and burn toast, beating the previous 3.8GW record set in May. Some decided to lessen this triumph by stating that 4.1GW roughly equals the output of just one single coal and biomass-fired plant, Drax, which is not only more reliable but not as expensive. Surely they can’t be serious? When Germany produced over half their energy needs via solar and wind earlier this year, I don’t remember seeing any rabid comparisons to numbers of coal or gas plants over there, so why here?