The stakes for wind energy are sky high. Seen by many as the major renewable alternative to fossil fuels, it is the world’s fastest-growing source of power. In 2005, the world’s installed wind power generation capacity increased by 43 per cent to almost 60,000 megawatts – that’s more than 12 times Ireland’s total electricity demand. Almost 70 per cent of this is in Europe, and while less than 20 per cent is in North America that figure is rising rapidly. Last year alone, US companies spent $3 billion on 2300 megawatts of new wind energy capacity, bringing its total to 9149 megawatts – a little more than 1 per cent of total US generating capacity. Other countries are also catching up fast. India is already fourth in the wind-energy league table, having overtaken Denmark, and China has plans to build 5000 megawatts of wind power capacity by 2010.
Worldwide, wind energy still accounts for little more than 0.5 per cent of total electricity generation, but expectations are high. The US government believes wind could supply up to 20 per cent of the country’s electricity. Other estimates are even more impressive. Last year, Christina Archer and Mark Jacobson from Stanford University in California produced a global wind-energy resource map that estimated the global potential for wind-generated energy at 72 terawatts – that’s 40 times the worldwide demand in 2000 (Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres, DOI: 10.1029/2004JD005462). It is not surprising that governments have looked at growing electricity demand and the public’s fears about global warming, and seen wind energy as part of the solution.