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Oct 22, 2012

Global wind energy capacity to double over five years

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The installed global wind capacity was expected to increase from the current 250 GW to close to 500 GW in the next five years, Global Wind Energy Council secretary-general Steve Sawyer told delegates at Windaba 2012 in Cape Town on Monday.

Most of the growth would come from Latin America, Africa, India, China and the rest of Asia. In terms of cumulative wind capacity, while Europe had been ahead for some time, Sawyer said it was predicted that by 2016, Asia would have overtaken Europe as the leader in this regard.

Optimistic models predicted that by 2020, there would be 1 071 GW of installed wind power globally and 2 342 GW by 2030. However, more moderate models predicted 832 GW in 2020, and 1 778 GW in 2030.

Substantial growth was forecast for 2012, but policy uncertainty in the US is weighing on next year’s outlook, Sawyer said.

The biggest challenge facing the wind energy sector continued to be the perception that wind was more expensive than coal. According to a 2010 study in North America, the general perception by government officials and media was that installing wind capacity was four times more expensive than building coal plants, but the study showed that in the same year, the cost of building new wind energy projects was in reality on a level with those of coal. 

“Ten, five years ago everybody said renewables are just too expensive. . . Every situation is different but on the whole, as a general statement, that is just no longer true. And that not only goes for wind but it also goes for solar [photovoltaic] and we have to combat that at every available opportunity,” said Sawyer.

Other challenges applicable both globally and in the South African context were the technicalities of integrating wind energy into countries’ electrical grids, removing the risk of wind investments to attract more institutional investment, and finding ways to work with solar photovoltaic energy providers rather than being pitted against them.

Sawyer added that the wind sector also had to convince policy makers that protectionist measures and trade barriers would be detrimental to many parties, including their own renewable-energy industry. Overall, a rise in protectionist practices in markets around the world had been seen over the last two to three years because of the economic slowdown and had resulted in increased local content requirements in the renewable-energy sector. 

“From an industry perspective we are operating in a global supply chain and if our mandate is to deliver the largest number of renewable electrons at the lowest possible cost, all of these trade barriers just make the supply chain less efficient and make the overall process much more expensive. The political reality in different places means we will have to live with these local requirements wherever we go. South Africa is not unique in that regard,” he said.

Edited by: Mariaan Webb
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