The future of wind

The future of wind

Arianna Pescini
2016 has been a fantastic year for the wind energy sector, and the trend will continue in the coming years. The market to watch will be Africa, which promises major opportunities
10 years of renewables in #SouthAfrica. Country produced just 3 MW in 2006. In 2016 it surpassed 1471 MW

With increasingly competitive pricing, deals with governments and the advantage of energy efficiency, the wind market has seen constant growth of late, and 2016 data confirms its place among key resources for a carbon-free future in the coming decades. According to a Global Wind Report study recently published by the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), the total global installed capacity of wind energy totaled 486.8 GW at the end of 2016. That’s 54 GW more than in 2015, and in March of this year the 500 GW benchmark was passed. Experts forecast a global installed capacity of over 800 GW by 2021. In absolute terms, China and the United States dominate the global market, followed by Germany and India (which has added 3,612 MW this year to reach a total of 29 GW), but the countries contributing to the rise of wind are many: "The growth of wind is bringing new industries, with hundreds of thousands of new jobs, and it is leading us toward a clean future," states GWEC chief Steve Sawyer. "We are rapidly evolving toward a market able to offer a wide array of renewable energy sources that are well-distributed across the globe. In order to reach our goals, we need to reach an emissions-free system before 2050." In Europe, behind the German train, there are outstanding performers like Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK (which dominates in offshore), France and Portugal. According to WindEurope, wind energy covered 10.4% of European electric demand in 2016. Turkey is also a strong performer, for the first time adding over 1 GW of new installations in 12 months, for a total of 6,081 MW.

The Global South's resources

In spite of crises and structural issues, the future looks bright for some parts of the Caribbean and Latin America. With 6,000 turbines and 10.74 GW of installed capacity, Brazil remains the region’s most promising market from here to 2020. Along with Chile and Uruguay, politically unstable Argentina is also emerging as a wind star with 2,014 MW. The number of Argentine renewable projects will triple over the next two years, and 70% of its territory already has an inexhaustible source of wind to rely on. But the best prospects in terms of growth and investments are in Africa. The GWEC report speaks of over 12 GW being installed in Africa and the Middle East between now and 2021. The growth will be driven by Morocco, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya and especially South Africa: “Africa has excellent potential, albeit strongly tied to its geographic position,” explains Dan Marks, senior research analyst at the consulting firm African Energy and editor of the African Energy Journal. “According to preliminary data, which we will confirm in the coming months, Africa has already installed 3,786 MW of wind energy. We expect to see constant growth, adding 1,407 MW by the end of 2017 (947 of which in South Africa alone), 2,150 MW in 2018 and 924 MW in 2019. That shows that the market is growing stronger.” Of course over such a vast area the market shows strong contrasts. "Projects in North Africa are making good progress, bolstered by international companies, while in Kenya, where a 310 MW wind farm is being built at Lake Turkana, things are moving more slowly, as in Tanzania. The jewel of East African wind is Ethiopia, where the government and Chinese businesses are working together to develop the sector. Egypt also represents a very important market. Generally speaking, wind energy projects on the continent are driven by large foreign firms with the support of smaller local partners."

Global installed capacity from renewables surpassed 500 GW in March of this year and experts are predicting and increase up to 800 GW by the end of 2021

Future prospects

In the medium term, South Africa appears to be the best candidate for driving the rise of Africa’s wind industry. Ranking seventh globally in coal reserves, the country has always been reliant on fossil fuels, which supply 77% of the country’s energy needs, making it the world’s 13th largest CO2 emitter. But falling oil prices, new investments and favorable geography have fostered the rapid expansion of the nation’s wind energy sector. South Africa generated just 3 MW in 2006 (source: IRENA), but ten years later that sum has risen to 1,471 MW (418 of which added in 2016 alone). There are currently 20 active wind farms in South Africa with over 600 turbines, and 12 other projects in the wings, awaiting only a resolution of the tug-of-war between electric company Eskon and independent renewable energy producers.
For Africa, then, the future of wind energy is rosy indeed. However, there are still obstacles to overcome: "Some countries may soon find themselves with surplus capacity," Marks comments, "not to mention the difficulty of finding suitable sites for small off-grid systems and micro-grids. Of course economic growth, technological advances and growing demand can change everything, even in relatively short time."