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Wind sector sees opportunities from the economic crisis

The coming months are likely to be tough for the global wind-power industry, as companies scale back expansion plans during the economic downturn. But the slow-down in growth should prove to be just a hiccup in the development of one of the most economically viable forms of green energy, according to an international industry association.

The Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) expects world wind power capacity to rise from 120 gigawatts (GW) at the end of 2008 to around 330 GW by 2013. This near tripling of capacity will be driven by escalating demand for onshore wind in China and solid growth in the more mature markets of Europe and North America. "Governments are turning the economic crisis into an opportunity, putting wind power at the centre of their economic stimulus and recovery programmes," GWEC secretary general Steve Sawyer said on the release of the organisation's annual Global Wind Report in March.

But renewables-friendly measures, such as the multi-billion dollar stimulus package recently developed by US President Barack Obama, will not stop the industry from struggling to attract fresh funding and find new markets in the near-term, given tight funding conditions and stunted demand. These negative fundamentals are likely to affect North America particularly badly – onshore wind has taken off in recent years, but where project finance is now scarce.

The US boasted the world's largest total wind-power capacity in 2008, accounting for 20.8% of output, edging ahead of Germany (19.8%) for the first time, with Spain (13.9%) next in the list. But while other regions are likely to register modest increases in the amount of new capacity added in 2009, the figure for the US is forecast to slow. While 2008 may have been a bumper year for the US wind industry, by its end, financing for new projects and orders for turbines and components had reduced to a trickle. As a result, only 7.8 GW of new capacity is forecast for the US this year, compared with 8.3 GW added in 2008.

But the GWEC is confident this slowdown will prove to be just a blip. "With the package of measures recently agreed by the US Congress and the prospect of national emissions-reduction legislation, the market will quickly recover," it said. The council sees 55 GW of wind power capacity being installed in North America by 2013, bringing the regional total over 82 GW.

The market's stellar performer, however, is likely to be China. The recently created National Energy Administration (NEA) has emphasised the essential role wind power should play in reducing the country's dependence on coal for power generation. The NEA has initiated its Wind Base programme with a goal of taking the country's installed wind capacity to more than 100 GW by 2020 – an essential element of the government's plan to provide 3% of China's electricity from non-hydropower renewables by that year. China installed 6.3 GW of new wind capacity in 2008 and is poised to overhaul the US as the leading installer in 2009. By 2013, China should be close to producing as much electricity from wind as the whole of Europe.

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