In 2007, Germany was the leader of the world for total wind production. However, in 2008, the U.S. was perched in the top spot thanks to strong growth. The data also indicated that sometime this year, the U.S. will seize the lead in installed solar power. The newly released figures represent the U.S.'s growing thirst for alternative power.
The U.S. increased its wind capacity by 50 percent last year to a total of 25 GW, enough to power nearly 5 million homes. Germany took a close second with 24 GW of installed wind, while Spain took the third spot. China took fourth place, but posted even larger growth than the U.S., more than doubling its capacity for the fourth year running. If China continues this pace of growth, it will soon overtake the U.S. in capacity.
Steve Sawyer, secretary general of the Brussels-based Global Wind Energy Council, who released the figures, cheered the findings. He states, "Governments must send a strong and unequivocal signal that the age of fossil fuels is over."
Globally wind power grew by 29 percent, to reach 121 GW total capacity. As one of the most affordable sources of alternative energy -- being only slightly more expensive than coal and nuclear -- wind accounted for 42 percent of the new energy installations in the U.S. Mr. Sawyer says this figure emphasizes wind power's competitive nature.
Currently, the wind power industry is slumping due to falling oil prices and a weakened economy. The industry does have some protection thanks to subsidies and energy taxes, such as the guaranteed price premium in Germany and Spain. Such initiatives have softened the blow dealt by the economy to the industry.
The new stimulus package that's being debated in the House and Senate would increase the amount of alternative energy tax breaks in the U.S. by $31B USD. The tax breaks would help President Obama's administration achieve its target of double U.S. alternative energy production in three years. The EU wants to increase its amount of alternative energy from 10 percent of the total energy production to 25 percent by 2020.
A separate analysis, conducted by Jefferies analyst Michael McNamara showed that the U.S., boosted by its sunnier climate, will overtake Germany this year in solar power production. Solar power is still very costly, but increased mass production and new technologies have helped to slow drop the costs.
The continued growth of wind and solar, variable power sources, worldwide raises the necessity of efficient storage technologies. Most storage technologies are still in their infancy, with many being prohibitively expensive.