Wind power is world’s fastest growing energy source

Preliminary estimates by the Worldwatch Institute have found that the world added 2,100 megawatts of wind generating capacity in 1998, 35 percent more than was added in 1997 - making wind power the world's fastest growing energy source.

The wind turbines added in 1998 have pushed overall wind generating capacity worldwide to 9,600 megawatts — double the capacity in place three years earlier. These wind turbines have the power to generate roughly 21 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 1999 — enough for 3.5 million suburban homes, says Worldwatch.

The wind power industry is also expanding rapidly, with sales of roughly $2 billion in 1998. The wind industry is creating thousands of jobs at a time when employment in manufacturing is falling in many nations.

Four nations lead the growth in wind energy: Germany, Denmark, Spain and the United States. Germany increased its capacity the most in 1998, adding 800 megawatts, to reach over 2,800 megawatts. Germany’s seven-year-old wind industry is already producing as much electricity as two of the country’s largest coal-fired power plants, says Worldwatch. In the windy northern state of Schleswig Holstein, wind now provides 15 percent of the electricity.

Spain added 395 megawatts of wind power in 1998, pushing the country’s overall capacity up 86 percent to 850 megawatts. In the northern industrial state of Navarra, which has a particularly active wind energy industry, 23 percent of the state’s electricity already comes from wind turbines, most of them manufactured in local assembly facilities that employ hundreds of workers in the area around Pamplona.

Wind power installations also grew rapidly in the United States in 1998, with approximately 235 megawatts of new capacity added across 10 different states. The surge in U.S. wind investment was spurred by efforts to take advantage of a wind energy tax credit that is scheduled to expire in June 1999. The largest projects are a 107-megawatt wind farm in Minnesota, one of 42 megawatts in Wyoming, and one of 25 megawatts in Oregon. Most of the rest of the new capacity came from several dozen small projects, ranging from Maine to New Mexico.

Denmark added 235 megawatts of capacity this past year. The country’s 1,350 megawatts of wind power now generate more than eight percent of the country’s electricity. And, Denmark’s wind companies have become leading exporters, according to Worldwatch, accounting for more than half the new wind turbines installed world-wide in 1998.

The developing world would benefit most from further growth of the wind industry because the power demand is growing rapidly and many countries lack adequate indigenous supplies of fossil fuels, says Worldwatch. So far, India is ahead of the game, with more than 900 megawatts of wind power in place. However, wind development has slowed there in the last two years due to a suspension of the tax breaks that were enacted in the mid-1990s. Indian observers expect the new Government to restore some of these incentives, which could boost wind development in 1999.

Accelerated growth of the wind industry is likely in 1999, with at least 2,500 megawatts of capacity likely to be installed, according to Worldwatch Institute estimates.

Spain and the United States are predicted to exceed 500 megawatts of new turbines each. Other countries where market growth is likely include Canada, Italy, Japan, Norway and the United Kingdom. Among developing countries, Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Egypt and Morocco are some of the nations that appear poised to develop sizable wind industries in the coming years, says Worldwatch.

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