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U.S. Wind Power Capacity Vaults to Top Spot due to Rapid Growth

February 11, 2009

The U.S. wind energy industry shattered all previous records in 2008, installing 8,358 megawatts (MW) of new generating capacity and placing the United States above all other nations in terms of installed wind power capacity. U.S. wind capacity increased by 50%, bringing it to a total of 25,170 MW, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). That's enough to push the United States above Germany, the previous leader for installed wind power capacity. According to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), Germany had 22,247 MW of wind capacity at the start of the year, but added only 1,665 MW in 2008, bringing it to 23,903 MW, more than 2,000 MW short of the new U.S. total. Overall, global wind power capacity increased by 28.8% in 2008, with more than 27,000 MW of new generating capacity, increasing the global wind power capacity to 120,791 MW, according to the GWEC.

Currently, only China appears able to challenge the U.S. lead, as the rapidly growing country added 6,300 MW of wind turbines in 2008 to more than double its installed wind power capacity for the fourth year in a row. China's total wind power capacity is only 12,210 MW—less than half of the U.S. wind capacity—but if the country continues to accelerate in its pursuit of wind power, it could quickly catch up to the U.S. total. Of course, a big unknown for 2009 is how each country will be affected by the global economic crisis, as the GWEC notes that financing for new projects and new orders for wind turbines and components slowed to a trickle by year's end. According to AWEA Chief Executive Officer Denise Bode, "it is clear that the economic and financial downturn have begun to take a serious toll on new wind development. We are already seeing layoffs in the area where wind's promise is greatest for our economy: the wind power manufacturing sector." See the press releases from AWEA and the GWEC, as well as the GWEC's country-by-country compilation of wind power capacity totals (PDF 45 KB). Download Adobe Reader.

Looking to the future, at least one organization remains bullish on global wind power growth. The Energy Watch Group, which bills itself as an international network of scientists and parliamentarians, notes that global wind power capacity has experienced exponential growth since the early 1990's, and the group expects the trend to continue. As wind power becomes more competitive with competing sources of electricity, the group sees rapid growth fueled by access to new wind energy resources, greater access to power grids, and an emerging world market for wind turbines and components. The group recently released a study that explores four different scenarios for global power consumption and wind power generation, and each scenario projects that wind power will eventually capture half of the market share for new power plant installations, with the date of that accomplishment ranging from 2017-2033. By 2025, the four scenarios result in renewable energy providing 23%-65% of the world's electricity needs. See the press release (PDF 185 KB) and full study (PDF 5.6 MB) from the Energy Watch Group.

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Content Last Updated: 09/21/2011