China, the US, Germany, India and Spain are the top five markets for wind energy in the world, with 19.6 GW of installed capacity in 2017, according to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC).
GWEC senior policy adviser Steve Sawyer said the figure was slightly down on the previous year, but was expected to rise again this year.
The council was expecting a modest increase in 2019 and a big uptake in 2020, as countries scramble to meet 2020 targets on renewable energy, aimed at reducing greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions by 20%.
Sawyer told delegates attending the yearly wind energy conference, Windaba, in Cape Town, on Wednesday, that China continued to dominate the wind energy sector and that emerging markets were popping up everywhere. In Africa, South Africa, Ghana, Morocco, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania have active wind industries.
“In terms of new markets, Mexico, Brazil and South Africa have been our priorities. They’re all well-established now and will be leading the charge for the next couple of decades,” anticipated Sawyer.
Globally, wind energy has shown an average of 19% growth over the past 17 years.
In Asia, China continues to lead the pack for installing wind power, with Vietnam, Mongolia, Philippines and Indonesia also on board. Sawyer said there had also been "surprising" developments in Pakistan and Thailand.
Argentina had been the new success story in South America, with some of the best wind resources in the world. Chile was moving ahead in wind, while Uruguay was considered "the Denmark of South America", said Sawyer.
He also spoke of the "two sleeping giants" – Russia and Saudi Arabia, where the prospect of wind energy has taken flight.
Sawyer said European markets continued to dominate offshore wind energy.
“Offshore wind has seen the kind of precipitous drops in price as in solar photovoltaic,” said Sawyer. The US, Australia, Vietnam and Korea were starting to develop offshore sectors. While offshore makes up about 10% of the global wind energy market, it attracts a lot of capital and attention, said Sawyer, as it installs a lot more than its "onshore cousins".
Sawyer said wind energy had "won the price war" and that in countries like Morocco it was cheaper to build a solar or wind plant than maintain a fossil fuel plant.
He said it was crucial to meet targets to limit global warming with its dangers of sea level rise and damage to the ecosystem.
“Economics, climate, air pollution, water and a host of other issues are pushing us in the direction of an emissions-free energy sector. The remaining question is whether we will do it in time to save the climate,” Sawyer told the conference.
He said GHG emissions would need to halve each decade from now on, reaching zero somewhere around 2050.
“Unlike 30, 20 or even 10 years ago, we have the technology – and it’s cheap! But we have to use it, make it work together, and fast.”
The GWEC policy analyst said he saw no future for coal, and very little future for gas. He warned that, while natural gas has been cited as a solution for the world’s energy needs, methane leakage from fracking could have devastating impacts for the environment.
Sawyer said there were a few key remaining challenges, such as major emitters – steel, cement, ships and planes – and commented that they may need incentives to lower emissions.
Meanwhile, the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), which has 160 member countries, said renewable energy provides a quarter of the world’s electricity.
In 2017, 88% of the total power addition came from solar and wind.
Irena renewable energy finance programme officer Sandra Lozo said most renewable energy projects were funded with public money, with 85% coming from development finance institutions. Some interesting business models were emerging, such as the pay-as-you-go model to finance small solar systems in sub-Saharan Africa and investments by pension plans and insurance companies.
“They are attracted to wind investments because of their large scale and stable cash flows,” said Lozo.
During a press conference at the Windaba, Lozo advocated a sustainable energy transition from coal and nuclear to renewables.
“If people’s concerns are not taken into account, the transition will be impeded or slowed down.” She suggested former coal miners and coal-fired plant workers should be retrained and gave the example of a fund set up to retrain coal workers and offer welfare benefits in the US state of Montana.
Lozo said there were many jobs to go around in renewables.
“Renewable energy jobs create more jobs per dollar invested and kilowatt produced than coal-fired power generation. If we continue to scale up renewables, we will more than offset jobs lost in the fossil fuel industry.”