Global Wind Capacity Grew 38.3 GW in 2010

Worldwide installed wind capacity grew by 38.3 GW in 2010, according to the Global Wind Energy Council. That’s an increase of 24% in global wind capacity, and slightly higher than previous estimates of how much wind had grown last year. In February the total new installed wind capacity was estimated at 35.8 GW, significantly less than the 38.6 new GW installed in 2009. The new estimate shows wind growth last year proceeded at nearly the same level as in the preceding year, and suggests the industry is poised to continue doing well.

The discrepancy between the February estimate and the one from this month seems to be due mainly to the fact that the Global Wind Energy Council o underestimated the amount of growth in China. It now turns out China installed an astonishing 18.9 GW of wind in 2010—almost half the new capacity put on the grid worldwide. Now China has a cumulative installed wind capacity of 44.7 GW, with no sign that growth in the industry will slow down anytime soon. Last year China’s installed wind capacity officially surpassed that of the US, making it the biggest wind producer in the world.

Yet as China’s economy continues to grow and the Chinese government struggles to curb carbon emissions, the country will need more wind turbines than ever before. Last month China finalized a Five-Year-Plan that includes a goal of building another 90 GW of wind capacity by the year 2015. By 2020 China wants to reach a total of 200 GW of wind power. Other developing countries are also ramping up wind production. Those that made large new wind energy installations last year include India, Mexico, and a scattering of North African countries.

In the United States wind energy growth did drop significantly last year. In 2009 the US installed 10 GW of new capacity, but the 2010 figure was only half of that. Industry leaders in the US say wind fared badly because Congress has failed to make support for wind permanent. US lawmakers have a habit of passing renewable energy tax incentives that only last a couple of years, giving the industry no certainty as to how long programs will continue to exist. This has made it difficult for wind in the US to really get off the ground, costing thousands of much-needed jobs. Congress’ on-again, off-again relationship with renewable energy is part of what has allowed China to become the new dominant player in the global wind market.

What will wind industry growth look like in 2011? Only time will tell for sure, but the firm MAKE Consulting predicts this will be a good year for wind. Rapid growth is expected to continue not only in Europe and Asia, but in other regions like Africa and Latin America. Of course if the US Congress finally gets serious about supporting wind development (don’t hold your breath), the industry could get a boost the United States too. Whether or not that happens, wind is destined to become a more and more important energy source around the globe as countries green their economies and cash in on cheap, clean energy from turbines.

Photo credit: Nick Engelfried