With the exception of hydroelectric power, the wind-power industry is far more developed than most other types of renewable energy. Over the past decade, the technology associated with wind power has improved significantly.
In addition, wind turbines that generate the electricity from strengthened fiber blades can produce more electricity than in the past – the average electricity-generating capacity of a newly installed wind turbine has risen from 200 kilowatts in 1990 to 15-20 times more megawatts today – leading to greater efficiency and upgrades of existing plants.
Moreover, turbine manufacturers are developing new designs that will require less maintenance.
The industry has enjoyed very strong growth since the late 1990s, as wind turbine technology has become more efficient and political directives encouraging energy diversity, in Europe in particular, have encouraged investment. In 1997, wind power generated only 7,636 megawatts of power, but this figure had risen to ten to fiftheen times megawatts by the end of 2011.
As Figure 1 shows, during the past five years Europe has dominated growth in demand for wind-generated power and the Continent now accounts for some 72.5 percent of the total share of global wind-generated power. Within Europe, the three largest markets are Spain, Germany and Denmark, where this type of power generation accounts for 6.5 percent, 5.0 percent and 20 percent of their total electricity generation, respectively.
Europe is obviously a significant player in this market, but the fastest growth in this type of power generation is in the Middle East and Asia-Pacific markets.
Wind-generated power output grew by 42.3 percent and 43.5 percent respectively year-over-year in these markets in 2004, with Iran and India emerging as the major markets.
Top Nine Suppliers of Wind Turbine Equipment
|GE Wind – a division of General Electric||U.S.A.||11.3%|
Advantages of Wind Power
There are a number of notable advantages associated with wind power:
- It is a clean, renewable energy source.
- There is no fuel component, so once built there is no reliance on a finite fuel supply or costs associated with such a supply. As such, wind energy can provide a hedge against fuel-price volatility.
- Wind power can be generated in remote areas, including out in the oceans.
- It is scalable in that it can be used to generate power in a local area or even at the individual property level, but can also generate large amounts of power that can be added to an electricity grid system.
- It is cost competitive, with the cost of construction of a wind farm lower than construction costs of many types of conventional power plants. Cost per swept rotor area (kwh/m2) fell by 30 percent between 1989 and 2001 as a result of lower interest rates and reduction in turbine costs (which account for 80 percent of the total cost) coming from economies of scale.
- Today, wind-generated energy costs less than 5 cents per kilowatt-hour, comparable to natural gas at today’s high prices.
- For land-based wind farms, once the wind towers are installed, the land area around them can be used for other purposes, such as agricultural use.
Disadvantages of Wind Power
As with any source of energy, there are some drawbacks to wind power. The most significant is that the wind to drive the turbines may be intermittent and that it does not always blow when electricity is needed. Wind energy may only be available 40 percent of the year in some areas versus 90 percent for a fossil-fuel powered plant. New blade design can overcome this problem to a certain extent, as can storing the energy in batteries, but because of these potential drawbacks, the site of the wind farm is key to its success and vice versa.
For wind, an intermittent source of power, to be linked into the electricity market, utilities need to develop a strategic grid network — one in which other types of power generation can be switched to low output to compensate for high wind energy output and vice versa.
Because of the intermittent nature of wind, there are concerns that if this source of power reaches a certain size in relation to other power sources in a national electricity grid, the grid may destabilize. The European Wind Energy Association argues, however, that the geographical dispersion of wind farms is likely to even out the flow once such farms reach a critical mass.
Other issues include concerns over the visual impact of the wind towers, the noise they make and their impact on birds. As the U.S. Department of Energy notes, however, most of these problems have been resolved through correct location of wind farms and technology breakthroughs.
We believe that the outlook for wind-generated power is encouraging. In Europe, in particular, there can be little argument that this type of energy generation has moved into the mainstream.
In Asia – a region that is experiencing rapid rates of economic growth and wants to diversify its energy supply, allowing it to become less reliant on imported fuels – it is clear that the attraction of this type of energy generation also is growing. In our view, that an Indian and a Japanese company are among the top 10 providers of wind turbines suggests the opportunities that they see both at home and across their regions.
Interest is also on the rise in the U.S. With the price of fossil fuel rising sharply and concerns about the stability of supply mounting, states, investors, and utilities are taking a second look at wind power. Twenty states in the U.S., as well as the District of Columbia, have signed on to the renewables portfolio standard (RPS), requiring that a minimum amount of energy be supplied from renewable sources. These states include California, Texas, New York and Illinois. The wind-energy generating industry has been a major beneficiary.
As an indication that wind power is becoming more mainstream, John Deere, the world’s largest manufacturer of agricultural equipment, announced plans to create a new business, offering financing to U.S. and European farmers who want to “harvest the wind,” their newest cash crop.
Based on estimates of new projects either already under construction or in the planning stages, we believe that the rate of growth in the wind-power industry is likely to remain strong.