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Samir Succar’s Blog

China pulls ahead of US in Wind (Or Maybe Not?)

Samir Succar

Posted February 3, 2010

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Despite earlier claims that the near-10 GW of US wind installed in 2009 might edge out China in wind capacity additions:

The wind industry installed more than 9,900 megawatts of generating capacity, AWEA said. The association says that is enough to serve more than 2.4 million homes, about as many as there are in Washington state. Bode said that meant the United States should edge China for the lead in wind power installation for 2009. (from E&E news, subscription req'd) 

It looks like China has taken the lead in wind with 12+ GW installed last year

China became the biggest market for new wind turbines last year, as it doubled power capacity from 12 gigawatts to 25 gigawatts.  (from Business Week)

Although, if ~30% of those new turbines sit idle, the US might still be on top in terms of new wind energy delivered (the issues around wind interconnection in China are covered in detail in this excellent post). Of course regardless how you view the 2009 numbers, the phenomenal growth of renewables in China points to a larger trend and its pretty clear where we are headed. However, putting the question of US/China wind growth aside, there's a more fundamental point here.

Despite who is "ahead", the issue is not how many wind turbines or gigawatts a country can install, but how much renewable energy those projects provide to that nation's homes and businesses. Installed capacity is fundamentally the wrong measure for determining the success of a renewables deployment program. Furthermore, by focusing on energy delivered rather than turbines installed, we get at some of the infrastructure and integration challenges of this large scale shift to clean energy which are becoming increasingly urgent. The US must address these bottlenecks in order to realize the promise of a clean energy economy and remain global leaders in emerging energy technology development and manufacturing.

Also, as I've suggested before, the US may soon face its own deterioration of wind project capacity factors if we don't quickly move away from the current investment-based incentives made available in the stimulus, and return a performance-based vehicle like the production tax credit. Time will tell...

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