The global wind energy industry is looking very healthy, with wind-generated power growing faster than any other renewable-energy technology in 2012, climbing by 19% to 283 GW, delegates attending the WINDaba conference and exhibition in Cape Town have heard.
The US pipped China to the post for 2012, although China remains the leader for total installed capacity, according to Global Wind Energy Council secretary-general Steve Sawyer. Last year was also a record-setting year for the industry in Europe.
In Africa, Ethiopia is slightly ahead of South Africa in total installed wind energy capacity, but Sawyer did not expect Ethiopia’s number one status in Africa to stand for long, with a new tranche of South African wind energy projects about to get under way. He told the WINDaba that South Africa was “making a significant impact” on the wind power scene.
According to South African Wind Energy Association CEO Johan van den Berg, 250 turbines were under construction in South Africa. He expected the country to exceed the Department of Energy’s target to generate 1 850 MW of wind energy by 2030.
Van den Berg was confident about South Africa’s prospects, saying he expected South Africa to be ranked fifteenth in the world within two years.
But it is not expected to be a breeze. The Renewables 2013 Global Status Report for 2013 shows that the wind industry has been challenged by lower prices, combined with increased competition among turbine manufacturers. The industry is also competing with low-cost gas in some markets.
“There’s a huge oversupply of manufacturing globally. Because of this oversupply and tough economic times, margins are slashed to the bone and competition is fierce,” Sawyer told the more than 500 delegates from 17 countries attending the conference.
Sawyer cautioned that South Africa, together with countries with similar policies, needed to strike a difficult balance between local imperatives to create jobs and use local manufacturers, which would make energy more expensive – or producing wind energy at the lowest possible cost.
Procurement rules stipulate that a certain percentage of turnover needs to go towards socioeconomic development within a certain radius of wind farms in South Africa.
While acknowledging the challenges, Van den Berg said he was excited about involving local communities.
“We have to manage the huge drive towards localisation, job creation and local manufacturing.”
Sawyer said prospects for renewable energy in 2013 globally were mixed. The US’s wind industry suffered a setback this year when the US government suspended tax credits, causing wind installation work to slow to a trickle. The tax credits have since been reauthorised.
He expected the rate of growth of wind energy in China to slow down this year, and for the Asian giant to concentrate on quality rather than quantity, as well as better planning.
Further, Sawyer believed the goal of providing 10% of global electricity supply through wind energy by 2020 to be slightly out of reach, with between 7% and 8% being more realistic.