Study: Wind thrives despite Copenhagen failure

Best-case scenario: one-fifth of world's electricity will be generated by wind by 2030, with China making most of world's wind turbines.

Candace Lombardi
In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.
Candace Lombardi
3 min read

Wind energy could be supplying 22 percent of the world's power generation by 2030--and 12 percent as soon as 2020.

That's according to the most aggressive estimate on wind energy in a report released today and funded by the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) and Greenpeace.

The 60-page Global Wind Energy Outlook 2010 (PDF) offers three scenarios for how the wind energy industry may develop between 2010 and 2030 depending on the political will, growing energy needs, corporate manufacturing development, and grid infrastructure changes.

Global Wind Energy Council

The most optimistic estimate--based on what the GWEC believes would happen in the event that the majority of world leaders implement national wind-energy policies--is that the world will have a total wind power capacity of 2,300 gigawatts by 2030.

The most conservative estimate, based on the 2009 World Energy Outlook from the International Energy Agency, places that capacity at 570 gigawatts by 2030.

The moderate estimate, based on current targets and plans for projects already in development being met, predicts 1,800 gigawatts by 2030.

The report found that wind energy has flourished despite a lack of agreement at the international level, pointing to the failure of world leaders to come up with a Kyoto Treaty successor in Copenhagen in December 2009. Many states, provinces, cities, and even private companies throughout the world have sought to augment their electricity supplies with wind energy despite, in many cases, a lack of wind-energy policy from their national governments.

"In the absence of a clear international framework and without a clear prospect of a global price on carbon emissions, our focus has to be on the national and regional energy policies which drive local development," said the report.

Much of the world's wind-energy development will likely be led by China, due in large part to the Chinese government's support of wind energy and policies backing its implementation. The country is expected to have a wind-energy capacity of 80 to 100 gigawatts by 2020 if current government mandates for energy production and purchasing policies are met.

"The performance of China's wind sector in 2009 managed to surprise even many optimists in the industry. China added a record-breaking 13.8 GW of new wind power capacity (compared with 6.3 GW the previous year), making it a world leader in terms of new installations in 2009," according to the report.

Much of it is due to China's ability to quickly organize and install a large wind turbine manufacturing industry in only a few years.

In 2005 only one Chinese company was among the 15 top wind-turbine manufacturers in the world. As of 2009 five of the top 15 are now Chinese companies. Goldwind, Sinovel, and Dongfang are 3 of the top 10 manufacturers in the world, while United Power and Mingyang are among the top 15. China leads the world in wind-turbine production, with an average of one turbine being made every hour, according to the GWEC.

Almost all the Chinese turbines made in the last few years have been installed within China. Quoting statistics from the Chinese Wind Energy Association, the GWEC report says that only 21 Chinese-made wind turbines were exported in 2009. However, Chinese wind-turbine manufacturers are preparing to enter the world market.

In May, the United Nations Environmental Program released a book of statistics on global investment in green technology with regard to economic recovery packages. China's investment in green technology equaled about 3 percent of China's gross domestic product, the highest percentage for any nation in the world. The U.S. in comparison spent the equivalent of 0.7 percent of its GDP on green-tech investment.

And the U.N.'s 2009 report on global renewable energy statistics, said that China "produced 25 percent of the world's wind turbines"--up from 10 percent two years earlier.