The global wind power industry, which has seen a 40-fold increase in electricity production over the last 15 years, is facing a period of slowdown thanks to a weak global economy.
A new report from the Global Wind Energy Council says that while wind power is now established as a mainstream source of electricity, economic shocks have reduced demand for new power generation of any kind. Unless there is a strong economic recovery, or an international move to put a price on carbon, "the industry's rate of growth will slow substantially in the coming few years," the report says.
China has been the main driver of growth for the last five years, the GWEC annual study says, but that market has stalled and there won't be much expansion there until 2015.
Canada remains one of the "dynamic" markets, it says, along with Brazil, India and Mexico. But they won't make up for the lack of growth in Europe, the United States and China.
According to the Canadian Wind Energy Association, Canada will add about 1,200 megawatts of wind power capacity in all of 2012, the second consecutive year that more than 1,000 MW has been added. The total capacity by the end of 2012 will be about 6,400 MW, CanWEA said, enough to power close to 2 million homes.
GWEC's international report projects that wind power could generate between 6 per cent and 13 per cent of all the electricity on the planet by 2020, depending on the support it gets from governments, and the state of the economy. If the industry's most optimistic scenario comes to fruition, shifting to wind power would save nearly 1.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions, the GWEC said.
By 2030, wind could supply 20 per cent of the world's power, the report said.
One factor that would help bring back the strong growth rates to the wind power industry would be stable renewable energy policies, particularly in the United States.
In the U.S., a key production tax credit which supported the wind industry is set to expire at the end of the year. Many wind power companies and equipment makers have cut back as a result, and even if the credit is renewed in the next few months, the industry does not expect to recover until 2014.
The huge growth in wind power generation in Canada and elsewhere has prompted opposition in some quarters. In rural Ontario, for example, there is a well organized lobbying effort to stop the proliferation of turbine construction. Opponents say wind turbines are causing health problems, hurting property valuations, and destroying the rural landscape.