The figures for 2015 wind installations are in, and they show two major trends. First, wind capacity continues to be installed at a major rate globally. Second, there are effectively two wind markets: China and the rest of the world.
In 2015, 63.1 GW of wind power capacity was added globally, a 23.2 percent increase from the 51.2 GW installed in 2014. On a cumulative basis, global wind power capacity grew to 434.1 GW in 2015 from 372.3 GW the prior year. That increase is according to the most recent global installation figures compiled in the annual World Wind Energy Market Update 2016 report published by Navigant Research.
Market Growth Worldwide
Growth occurred in almost every wind market—from the long-established European countries to new markets in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and elsewhere. Combined, North America and Latin America installed 14.5 GW in 2015, representing 23 percent global capacity and overtaking Europe by a percentage point. The U.S. led with 8.5 GW of new wind capacity added in 2015, thanks to a building boom sustained by reinstated tax credits. Brazil followed with the most capacity in the Americas with almost 2.8 GW commissioned. Its reverse auction system to award wind power purchase price contracts has proven effective at supporting gigawatt-level installations on a yearly basis at competitively low contract prices.
Europe represented 22.1 percent of new global capacity, with 13.9 GW in 2015, which was up from 12.1 GW in 2014. Germany saw the greatest increase, driven by major offshore wind capacity additions of 2.4 GW and a rush for developers to install onshore projects before incentives shifted to a more limited system in 2016. Record installations were seen in Poland, followed by substantial new capacity in France, the UK, Turkey, and over a dozen other countries.
The degree to which the Asian markets are driving wind demand—particularly China—cannot be overstated. The combined markets of South and East Asia represented 52.6 percent of global wind power capacity, up from 50.6 percent in 2014. Almost all of this annual record was driven by China, which installed a remarkable 30.2 GW—up from a record 23.3 GW in 2014, which itself was an incredible achievement. However, that development has not improved China’s wind curtailment challenge, which worsened from approximately 9 percent curtailed in 2014 to around 15 percent curtailed in 2015.
China provides its wind developers and wind plant owners feed-in-tariffs (FiTs), which are set prices per kilowatt-hour produced, and China’s FiT prices are set according to wind speed location. China’s huge build in 2015 was partly driven by a minor downward adjustment of the FiT rates beginning Jan. 1, 2016. As a result, wind developers rushed to bring capacity online before the rate adjustment. However, the rate drop is minor, so annual capacity installations above 20 GW are expected again for 2016 and in near-term years.
A Split Market
There is effectively a two-part global wind market splitting China and the rest of the world. The split is not only in total capacity installed in a given year but also in the underlying wind turbine supplier dynamics. China sourced 97 percent of its turbines from 23 Chinese wind turbine OEMs, shutting out all but a few Western turbine OEMs. Conversely, 97 percent of all installations throughout the rest of the world were supplied by over 18 Western and Indian wind turbine companies and almost no Chinese suppliers.
This shows China’s overwhelming preference for its domestic vendors. Markets and developers outside of China have responded in kind by sourcing very few turbines from Chinese suppliers. Expect this dynamic to slowly shift as some of China’s more proven suppliers seek international diversification to offset a Chinese market slowdown and Chinese wind turbine manufacturing overcapacity.
New annual wind power installations in 2016 are projected to decelerate by 16.4 percent to around 52.8 GW. The change is driven primarily by a smaller expected rate of project commissioning in China and Germany.
Germany is expected to drop to an annual wind market with installations between 2.5 GW and 3 GW annually through 2020, with between 500 MW and 800 MW coming from offshore wind. It is worth noting that this smaller German wind market is partly why the German wind turbine OEM Nordex acquired Acciona’s wind turbine division and why Siemens is acquiring Spain-based Gamesa. Both Gamesa and Acciona have been successful at securing geographically diversified international sales in fast-growing markets, while Nordex and Siemens have been less successful and heavily reliant on the German market.
China should see lower installation levels in 2016— around 23 GW due to its FiT payments adjusting downward. However, the broader forecast through 2020 has increased since last year’s Navigant Research forecast due to higher-than-expected installations levels. China has been able to combine its mighty industrial manufacturing capabilities with a permissive permitting environment, supportive wind policies, and other top-down government market drivers to install enormous amounts of wind capacity.
As much as China is often criticized for its coal plant building, the country has committed to wind in a major way. Since 2011, there have been five Chinese government wind power plans approved with the following target annual capacities: 26.8 GW, 25.3 GW, 28 GW, 27.6 GW, and 34 GW. The country’s FiT rates are designed to encourage wind plant development up to these levels. The Chinese Wind Energy Association reported that in 2015 alone more than 43 GW of wind power plants were approved. A total of 116.5 GW is expected to be built between 2016 and the end of 2020, bringing China’s cumulative capacity up to 261.5 GW.
U.S. Tax Policies Enacted through 2020
The U.S. will remain a bright spot in the global wind market—particularly following guidance announced in March from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which oversees the tax credit policies that support wind. The Production Tax Credit (PTC) and the more-or-less equivalent value Investment Tax Credit were enacted in late 2015, providing the U.S. wind market what it has been desperate for: long-term market certainty. It enacted the tax credits from 2016 through 2020, gradually decreasing the value over the period—effectively a phase out.
However, guidance from the IRS in March changed what had been a typical two-year construction window to a four-year window and removes a previous guideline that stipulated construction must be continuous in nature. Combined, this will take a lot of pressure off the wind industry so it does not have to build as fast as possible to meet a two-year window.
Wind plants seeking 100 percent PTC value and starting construction in 2016 will have until 2020 to complete the project. Applying the four-year guidance, projects starting in 2017 will receive 80 percent value if completed by 2021, 60 percent value by starting in 2018 and completed by 2022, and 40 percent if starting in 2019 and completed by 2023. The new four-year window means that capacity additions will see less of a short-term spike and more of a smoothed out deployment cycle.
Navigant Research expects the market to peak in 2018 with 10.3 GW installed that year and then taper off to a 2.8 GW annual market by 2020. That low point will gradually recover—driven by wind’s competitive costs—to see a further 17.3 GW installed between 2021 and 2025.
Markets to Watch
Brazil is a market to watch for downside adjustments, as a shaky economy and turmoil in the government have introduced uncertainty in the marketplace. This uncertainty is already reflected in starkly lower participation in the power contract auctions than in previous rounds. The UK is another market to keep an eye on, as the surprise late-June Brexit vote casts uncertainty on that country’s strength as a market leader. Onshore wind has already taken a big hit from a rightward shift in a government unsupportive of wind. All eyes will be watching to see if the UK’s previously strong support for offshore wind wavers.
Barring any major changes to those two markets or any others, Navigant Research expects total additional global installations for the next five years to amount to 271.4 GW of new wind capacity, bringing total cumulative capacity by the end of 2020 to over 705 GW of wind capacity. This cements wind as an essential and valuable part of the world’s energy markets for the foreseeable future.
Lead image credit: ian munroe | Flickr