While global investment in clean energy fell by 11 percent in 2012, the dip still left last year as the second most successful year ever for the sector. And despite the speed bump, the planet’s installed capacity to generate wind power shot up from 238 gigawatts to slightly more than 282 gigawatts last year, according to numbers compiled by the Global Wind Energy Council.
The increase was driven by China and the United States, which both installed roughly 13 gigawatts a pop, bringing their cumulative totals to 75.6 gigawatts and 60 gigawatts, respectively. The GWEC’s numbers for the spike in U.S. wind capacity are a bit higher than the 10.7 gigawatts reported recently by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — but even under that lower estimate, wind’s newly installed capacity beat out every other form of American power.
Overall, the 2011 to 2012 jump reported by the GWEC was almost 20 percent:
How much power these new installations generate? In 2010, American wind power utilized 27.4 percent of its nameplate capacity. But that’s the nature of wind, and the increase in capacity is a sign of wind’s economic viability. Bloomberg New Energy Finance just released new research concluding that wind power in Australia is already cheaper than coal and natural gas — and its cost superiority remained even when the price Australia charges polluters to emit carbon is discounted.
Breaking down the numbers by global region, Europe’s wind capacity continued chugging along the steady upward trajectory it’s been on for the last eight years. North America’s annual capacity additions have been on a much more dramatic upward swing, and after dropping in 2010 and 2011, shot back upward dramatically, topping Europe for the first time. Asia, too, has been rising very rapidly over the last few years, though its new capacity in 2012 fell a bit from highs of over 20 gigawatts in 2010 and 2011.
The GWEC chalked Asia’s 2012 slowdown up to market consolidation in China and “a lapse in policy” in India. The North American spike was driven by a last minute dash in the U.S. to take advantage of the production tax credit (PTC) for wind: 8 gigawatts of the country’s total 13 gigawatts were installed in the final quarter of last year. Wind’s PTC was anticipated to die with the arrival of the “fiscal cliff” — which would’ve likely damaged both jobs and the progress of renewable energy in America — but the January deal that averted the cliff also extended the tax credit for another year.
The fight over the PTC led to a split in the GOP, as Republicans from states with high levels of wind power development lined up behind extending the tax credit in opposition to the rest of their party. Tea party Rep. Steve King (R-IA), of all people, told a recent policy forum that Congress has “got to be a more reliable partner” in promoting renewable energy.