Wind power is kicking butt againWind and solar power are like a brother and sister racing against each other. Whoever wins, the family will be happy, but the race is long and sometimes one is ahead, sometimes it's the other. For most of the past few decades, wind power seemed to be ahead, with a lower cost and more megawatts of capacity being installed around the world. Then in the past few years, solar power has sprinted forward with a big drop in costs, while wind fell behind a bit. It now looks like the long-term winner will probably be solar, as a kind of Moore's Law (knowns as Swanson's Law - see below) relentlessly drives the price per watt down. Wind is also getting cheaper all the time, following its own downward trajectory, but it doesn't quite have the runway ahead of it that solar has; it'll be hard to keep making turbines bigger for much longer, while making cheaper solar panels is a more straightforward manufacturing challenge.
After falling behind in 2013, wind has got a second wind (excuse the pun), and did quite well in 2014. In fact, around the world there were 51,477 megawatts of wind capacity installed during the year, a 44% increase over the amount installed in 2013. This brings the total global wind capacity to 369,553 megawatts, a huge number! And what's impressive is that it took us maybe 40 years to get to that number, but just last year 1/7 of the total capacity was installed. This means that, in theory, even without acceleration in the rate of growth, we could double wind capacity during the next 7 years. With a bit of acceleration, maybe another doubling in 5 years is possible..?
Above you can see in blue the wind power capacity addition in each year since 1997, when 1.5 gigawatt was considered a lot.
Then below, in red, you can see the cumulative numbers for global wind power capacity.
This pie chart shows the top 10 countries for new installed capacity. Notice anything? Anyone stands out?
The USA looks better here, on the cumulative chart, but as we saw previously, the country is falling behind. Even Germany is growing its wind resources faster and catching up.
Here's another view of the past few years be region. Asia's growing extremely fast, Europe more steadily, North-America has more volatility. But the other continents are big opportunities for future growth. Rather than build dirty power plants, many countries in Africa could invest more in solar and wind, and while there's an upfront investment, after that the "fuel" is free forever!
This last one shows offshore wind power capacity. In most places, its a very under-developed clean energy resource. Costs are higher because building anything at sea is more complex, but winds are stronger and more constant than on land, and there's not the NIMBY problem if you are out of sight.