Europe’s 2008 Wind Power Record a Bittersweet Achievement

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More wind power was installed in the EU than any other electricity-generating technology last year, with capacity jumping 15 percent to 64,949 megawatts, says the European Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

It was a first for Europe — it was also a tad bittersweet.

The news came as it emerged that America, who has been on a record-shattering wind run, has eclipsed Germany as the world’s biggest wind power producer for the first time, after boosting capacity by 50 percent last year, reports the Global Wind Energy Council. On top of that, China, who doubled its capacity for the fourth year in a row, is expected to oust Germany to take the number two spot by 2010.

Nevertheless, a record is a record and credit is due. In the EU, wind energy made up an impressive 43 percent of all new electricity-generating capacity in 2008 — compared with 35 percent for gas, 13 percent for oil and four percent for coal. (The US posted nearly identical performance figures, as SolveClimate reported last week — again, a record.)

Other stats from Europe:

  • Investments of about $14 billion were made across the bloc in the wind sector.
  • A total of 160,000 workers were employed directly and indirectly in the sector.
  • On average, 20 wind turbines were installed for every working day of the year.
  • Germany narrowly led with 1,665 new megawatts against Spain’s 1,609 megawatts.
  • New member states had their strongest year ever, with Bulgaria and Hungary, tripling and doubling their capacities, respectively.
  • The amount of wind capacity installed by year’s end — equal to about 4.2 percent of the EU’s electricity demand — is enough to avoid 108 million tons of C02 emissions per year, or the equivalent of taking more than 50 million cars off Europe’s roads.

"The figures show that wind energy is the undisputed number one choice in Europe’s efforts to move towards clean, indigenous renewable power," said Christian Kjaer, EWEA Chief Executive.

The question is, will the boom last, especially at at time when European nations are seriously rethinking nuclear power as a long-term cure for energy insecurity? And if it does, can the EU possibly keep up with the pace of new wind construction on other continents?

Right now, Europe and North America are running head-to-head in the race to the top of the wind industry, with about 8,900 megawatts each of new installed capacity in 2008. Asia’s not far behind with 8,600 megawatts, with China the clear leader. But numbers aren’t always what they seem: Europe’s wind growth by percentage — at 15 percent — trails the global average substantially.

In 2008, according to the Global Wind Energy Council, wind energy capacity worldwide grew by 28.8 percent to reach total global installations of more than 120,800 megawatts. More than 27,000 megawatts of new wind power generation capacity came online in 2008 — 36 percent more than in 2007.

For new jobs alone, European nations would be wise to accelerate their rates of wind growth. A recent study by the EWEA revealed that building wind farms generates 15 jobs over one year per every megawatt built, and 0.4 permanent jobs per every megawatt installed. A plan to bring wind to 30 percent of electricity generation by 2020, for example, would require 30,000 megawatts of new wind power every year, or four times the current level. That would create half a million permanent jobs. As the Oil Drum notes, it would come at no cost to the taxpayer or rate payer.

There are no excuses. And the International Energy Agency has said that wind is now competitive with coal and nuclear — even without subsidies. China, for its part, has made the development of wind energy a key economic growth area:

"In 2009, new installed capacity is expected to nearly double again, which will be one third or more of the world’s total new installed capacity for the year," said Li Junfeng, Secretary General of the Chinese Renewable Energy Industry Association (CREIA).

Likewise, President Obama has pledged a clean energy revolution in America, and his House-passed stimulus measure would give new wind production a big lift in the economic downturn.

In many ways, Europe led the world into the age of wind energy. But the latest wind power results beg the question: Will it continue to lead, or be led?