Wind Power

2006 Wind Installations Offset 43 Million Tons of CO2

The 15,200 megawatts (MW) of new wind turbines installed worldwide last year will generate enough clean electricity annually to offset the carbon dioxide emissions of 23 average-sized U.S. coal-fired power plants, according to a new Vital Signs Update from the Worldwatch Institute. The 43 million tons of carbon dioxide displaced in 2006 is equivalent to the emissions of 7,200 MW of coal-fired power plants, or nearly 8 million passenger cars.

Global wind power capacity increased almost 26 percent in 2006, exceeding 74,200 MW by year’s end. Global investment in wind power was roughly $22 billion in 2006, and in Europe and North America, the power industry added more capacity in wind than it did in coal and nuclear combined. The global market for wind equipment has risen 74 percent in the past two years, leading to long backorders for wind turbine equipment in much of the world.

“Wind power is on track to soon play a major role in reducing fossil fuel dependence and slowing the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” according to Worldwatch Senior Researcher Janet Sawin. “Already, the 43 million tons of carbon dioxide displaced by the new wind plants installed last year equaled more than 5 percent of the year’s growth in global emissions. If the wind market quadruples over the next nine years — a highly plausible scenario — wind power could be reducing global emissions growth by 20 percent in 2015.”

Today, Germany, Spain, and the United States generate nearly 60 percent of the world’s wind power. But the industry is shifting quickly from its European and North American roots to a new center of gravity in the booming energy markets of Asia.

In 2006, India was the third largest wind turbine installer and China took the fifth spot, thanks to a 170 percent increase in new wind power installations over the previous year. More than 50 nations now tap the wind to produce electricity, and 13 have more than 1,000 MW of wind capacity installed.

“China and the United States will compete for leadership of the global wind industry in the years ahead,” says Sawin. “Although the U.S. industry got a 20-year head start, the Chinese are gaining ground rapidly. Whichever nation wins, it is encouraging to see the world’s top two coal burners fighting for the top spot in wind energy.”

Calculations are based on U.S. data: average capacity factor for new wind power capacity (34%, from American Wind Energy Association);average capacity factor for coal-fired power plants (72%, from North American Electric Reliability Council – NAERC); average CO2 emissions from U.S. coal-fired power plants (0.95 kg/kWh, from U.S. Energy Information Administration); and average coal-fired power plant capacity (318 megawatts, from NAERC).