Skip to main content

About 63 gigawatts of new wind power was added around the world in 2015.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Wind-power projects around the world accounted for almost half of the new electrical generating capacity installed in 2015, as the cost of turbines fell and pressure mounted to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

After last year's building spree, wind power now makes up about 4 per cent of the global supply and could represent almost one-third of electrical production by 2050, according to a report released on Tuesday by the Global Wind Energy Council, which represents companies and national associations in the industry.

About 63 gigawatts of new wind power was added around the world in 2015 – enough to power more than 10 million homes – and almost half of that was built in China. At year-end, there was about 433 GW of total wind capacity globally, up about 17 per cent from the year before. Among renewables, only solar has grown faster – adding 26 per cent last year, although from a much smaller base.

Canada now has the seventh-most wind power in the world, with about 11 GW of capacity, far behind first-place China with 145 GW and second-place United States with 74 GW.

"It is clear that wind is now a mainstream source of energy supply and will play a leading role in decarbonization," the report said, although costs still need to come down, and reliability needs to be improved if much more wind is to be integrated into electricity distribution grids.

The report projects that wind-power production will almost double by the end of the decade to about 800 GW, and could reach 4,000 GW by 2050. The greatest growth will likely occur in Asia.

Steve Sawyer, secretary-general of the Global Wind Energy Council, said on a conference call Tuesday that wind power will likely supply up to 8 per cent of the world's electricity by 2020, 20 per cent by 2030 and almost one-third by 2050.

This increased share is partly driven by the falling costs of wind power, which is now cheaper than other forms of new electricity production in many markets in Africa, Asia, Latin America and parts of North America.

Boosting supplies of renewable power will not solve the world's climate problem, Mr. Sawyer said, but it will certainly help reduce emissions. And with the Paris climate accord being signed in New York this week, he said, it is beginning to dawn on policy makers that the rise in the world's temperature can only be slowed significantly if the power sector cuts emissions to zero by 2050.

That can be achieved through a shift to renewables, he said. "Don't underestimate the rate of change [when] something begins to catch on. We may be on the cusp of that."

Currently, the fastest growth in wind power comes from offshore installations, which have been booming in Germany, Britain and China. There are still no offshore wind farms in North America, although the first one in the United States is expected to be completed off the East Coast this year.

In Canada, the on-shore wind industry had a banner year in 2015, with 1.5 GW of capacity being added, mostly in Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. That represented about $3-billion of investment.

The report noted there is very little growth in demand for electricity in many provinces and that could slow the expansion of wind power, especially with large new hydro projects under construction in B.C. and Labrador, and nuclear plants being refurbished in Ontario.

Still, there is potential for substantial wind power construction in Western Canada in the coming years, the report said, as Alberta moves to phase out coal-fired power production and Saskatchewan plans to sharply increase its renewable electrical capacity.

Over the longer term, a move in Canada to electrify transportation, heating and industrial processes could significantly boost demand for wind and other renewable sources of power, the report said.