By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian, 18 October 2011
China and India have begun to outstrip developed world in adding new turbine capacity.
Last year was a turning point in the global race to develop clean technology. It marked the first time that more new wind power generating capacity was installed in developing countries than in the rich world.
China led the way, according to the Global Wind Energy Council(GWEC), andnow has the most wind generating capacity in the world, thanks to favourable government policies. A record capacity of 19 gigawatts was added in China last year, taking the total to more than 42GW. India also showed strong growth, in line with the government target of adding more than 10GW of new capacity by 2012, and there are industry estimates that 100GW is possible.
According to GWEC, the growth illustrates the advantages of investing in green power. “This puts an end to the assertion that wind power is a premium technology only for rich countries which cannot be deployed at scale in other markets,” it says in its annual report. “It is also testament to the inherent attractiveness of wind power for countries striving to diversify their energy mix, improve their security of supply in the face of rapidly growing demand and relieve national budgets of the burden of expensive fossil fuel imports at volatile prices.”
In the developed world, by contrast, growth was inhibited by the financial crisis and recession: while €50bn was invested and about 39GW added around the world, the overall market for wind energy was static compared with 2009. The US market fared particularly badly, with only half as much new wind capacity built as in the previous year. Europe’s growth also slowed down, with 7.5% less capacity added than in 2009, according to GWEC. Even an increase in the offshore wind market and growth in eastern Europe was not enough to make up for the slack elsewhere.
The rapid growth of wind energy in emerging economies also shows how power is shifting in the clean technology world. Three of the world’s top 10 wind turbine manufacturers are now Chinese, and the country makes turbines capable of producing 30GW a year, of which an increasing number are now destined for the export market. India also boasts 17 companies making wind power equipment, the biggest and best known being Suzlon. By 2013, according to estimates for the World Institute for Sustainable Energy, Indian companies will be making turbines to produce 17GW a year, many to be exported around the world.
Other forms of clean technology are also growing rapidly in the developing world – China, for instance, is also the world’s biggest manufacturer of solar power equipment, the vast majority of it exported.
European governments facing severe fiscal crises have given less attention to promoting clean technology than in the past, and some have cut back on subsidies to save money. But this neglect carries a potential cost and a risk, as if Europe falls behind it will struggle to make up the lost ground. Connie Hedegaard, climate change commissioner for the EU, warned a European Wind Energy Association event earlier this year that unless governments upped their game, Europe as a whole would lose out. “We should not be losing this race, because these are the growth industries of the future, that will generate wealth and create jobs,” she said.
In the US, there are similar fears among clean technology advocates. President Obama called in 2009 for a doubling of renewable energywithin three years, but this now looks less likely to be achieved. There are doubts over some of the support available for renewables – many of the relevant grants and loans are due to expire this year, and there is hostility towards such mechanisms from some quarters.
The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has called for support to be stepped up, against attacks from some politicians and sections of the media. Rob Gramlich, senior director of public policy for AWEA, claims that conventional forms of electricity have benefitted from subsidies for years.
“Tax incentives have been the most effective means of bringing new energy sources to the market,” he says. “Previously they brought us much of our domestic oil and gas supply, including the new shale gas resources. They typically apply in the early and middle stages of development, so it’s not surprising that in any given year, new sources receive much more than conventional sources.”
Steven Lang, clean tech leader for the UK and Ireland at Ernst and Young, says government policies are one of the key determinants for how fast new clean technologies grow. “Governments need to send a very clear signal to the market, that they are committed to this. Financial incentives are also very important,” he says.
Lang points to Alex Salmond, the leader of Scotland’s devolved administration, who has put renewable energy firmly at the heart of his economic agenda, and a particular focus on new marine technologies such as wave and tidal power. The first minister told a conference in September: “I’m confident that by 2025 we will produce at least 100 per cent of our electricity needs from renewables alone, and together with other sources it will enable us to become a net exporter of clean, green energy.” Salmond even won the praise of Al Gore recently for his “inspiration”.
The world is engaged in a “clean tech arms race”, Lang says, but he argues that all countries have opportunities in different types of clean technology. For instance, in the UK offshore wind is likely to be a winner, and has been championed by the government because it avoids the problems associated with obtaining planning permission for onshore wind farms. Carbon capture and storage is another potential British winner, if government plans for as many as four demonstration projects are successful.
There is also plenty of room for innovation around the world in energy efficiency, smart girds and smart meters – all technologies that could revamp electricity supply networks, particularly in countries such as the US where experts say an overhaul is urgently needed. Electric vehicles have a vast potential, and many renewable heating technologies are still only used on a small scale. China may be taking the largest slice of the clean tech market currently, but that is by no means the end of the race