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China Dominates the World of Wind, but the U.S. Wind Energy Market Rebounds

Nearly half of all wind power installations in 2014 occurred in China. Offshore projects could drive future growth

2 min read
China Dominates the World of Wind, but the U.S. Wind Energy Market Rebounds
Photo: Imaginechina/AP Photo

In 2014, the wind energy market in the United States grew sixfold, but it was still dwarfed by the world leader in wind: China.

China’s 2014 wind installations were up nearly 40 percent over 2013’s, according to new data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). China installed 20.7 gigawatts last year, nearly half of the world’s total and more than four times the 4.7 gigawatts installed in the United States.

The strong figures for wind reflect a solid year for clean energy investment worldwide. Global clean technology investment was $310 billion in 2014, according to BNEF—up 16 percent from the previous year, but still a little lower than its peak of $317.5 billion in 2011.

Offshore wind saw record investment in 2014, but it was really rooftop solar photovoltaic installations that drove the rebound of clean energy overall.

“Healthy investment in clean energy may surprise some commentators, who have been predicting trouble for renewables as a result of the oil price collapse since last summer,” Michael Liebreich, chairman of the advisory board for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said in a statement. “Our answer is that 2014 was too early to see any noticeable effect on investment, and anyway, the impact of cheaper crude will be felt much more in road transport than in electricity generation.”

In the United States, the growth was driven by the extension of the production tax credit. China’s growth was due in part to a rush to get projects started before tariffs are lowered for onshore wind, according to BNEF. German wind projects, which totaled 3.2 gigawatts of new installations, set a new record for that country as developers there also pushed to take advantage of outgoing subsidies. Brazil and India rounded out the top five markets. In many markets, including parts of the United States, wind is increasingly competitive without subsidies such as tax credits. 

“This year has seen a couple of special circumstances come together, so it probably isn’t a blueprint for future development,” David Hostert, European wind analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said in a statement. “What is remarkable though is that more than 1 GW was repowered with new turbines on existing projects. This means making better use of existing wind sites and opening up new opportunities for developers and asset owners in a mature market.”

In the coming years, it could be offshore wind that drives growth. BNEF predicts that the global offshore wind market will reach nearly 40 gigawatts by 2020.

Last year was a banner year for offshore projects, with nearly $20 billion in investment, mostly in Europe. Such projects are only getting bigger. In 2014, the UK approved the world’s largest offshore wind farm, which will have an installed capacity of 1,200 megawatts—more than double the size of the London Array, the largest offshore wind farm currently in operation. 

The Conversation (0)
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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