The annual report from the Global Wind Energy Council was published on Tuesday, revealing that more than 54 gigawatts of new wind energy was installed during 2016, and that the technology is now competing with “heavily subsidized incumbents across the globe.”
The landmark Global Wind Report: Annual Market Update report was published on Tuesday by the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), the international trade association for the wind power industry. The main highlights from the report are more than 54 gigawatts (GW) of new wind power installed during 2016, now spread out over 90 countries. Of these countries, 9 now have more than 10 GW installed, and 29 have now passed the 1 GW mark.
Global cumulative wind energy capacity grew by 12.6% in 2016, bringing the final number up to 486.6 GW.
“Wind power is now successfully competing with heavily subsidized incumbents across the globe, building new industries, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and leading the way towards a clean energy future,” said GWEC Secretary General Steve Sawyer. “We are well into a period of disruptive change, moving away from power systems centered on a few large, polluting plants towards markets increasingly dominated by a range of widely distributed renewable energy sources. We need to get to a zero emissions power system well before 2050 if we are to meet our climate change and development goals.”
Coming off of the record 2015, meeting those same levels of capacity and investment was always going to be difficult for the wind energy industry. 2015 saw the breaking of the 60 GW mark for the first time, and investment reached the lofty heights of $348.5 billion (€324.6 billion). In 2016 both of these measurements fell somewhat, with new capacity reaching a still impressive 54 GW, and investment 18% lower, down to $287.5 billion (€267.8 billion).
Overall, this is also the first time this decade that investment in wind energy has fallen, after several impressively strong years. However, it is important to remember that less money is buying more, these days. In 2015, $329 billion in investments saw a total of 63 GW brought online. A year earlier, $316 billion in investments brought a total of only 51.7 GW — compared to 2016, when $287.5 billion paid for 54 GW. The decline in technology costs is allowing smaller investment numbers to pay for greater installation figures — though one wonders what it would look like if investment figures continued to increase.
“Offshore wind has had a major price breakthrough in the past year, and looks set to live up to the enormous potential that many have believed in for years,” Sawyer continued. “We see the technology continuing to improve and spread beyond its home base in Europe in the next 5-10 years.”
The authors of the report were honest about their expectations for the global wind energy industry, admitting that “the 2016 market did not meet the expectations we had set for it early last year, primarily due to the fact that China ‘only’ installed 23 GW in 2016, but also due to smaller than expected markets in Brazil, Mexico, Canada, and Africa — South Africa in particular.”
Some of the figures from this report were already publicized earlier this year, when the Global Wind Energy Council released its preliminary statistics in February. However, the detailed report provides more information and greater context for how the industry performed last year.
Maybe the most important takeaway from the report is the growing cost-competitiveness of wind energy across a number of markets and countries. “Wind power remains the most competitive way of adding new power generation capacity to the grid in large number of markets around the world, even when competing against heavily subsidized conventional generation technologies,” the authors of the report noted. They also note that the “cost-stability of wind power makes it a very attractive option for utilities, independent power producers and companies who are looking for a hedge against the wildly fluctuating prices of fossil fuels while at the same time reducing their carbon footprint.”
“Overall, we have a lot of confidence in the wind power market going forward, as the technology continues to improve, prices continue to go down and the call for clean, renewable power to reduce emissions, clean our air and create new jobs and new industries only gets stronger with each passing year,” concluded Sawyer.
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