GWEC: 'Africa to emerge as wind hotspot'

The frenzy of additions in the US at the end of last year brought the country within a whisker of China for the title of 2012’s biggest installer of wind, new global figures show, with southern Africa showing signs of stirring.

America’s wind sector added a record 13.12GW last year, more than 8GW of it in the final quarter, according to the Global Wind Energy Council’s (GWEC’s) statistics for 2012.

The US surge – prompted by fears that the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) was about to expire – left it neck-and-neck with China, which added 13.2GW.

GWEC says while the US rushed, China “paused for breath” in 2012 after previous years of rapid growth of its own.

The US and China ended 2012 with total installed wind capacities of 60GW and 75.6GW of wind respectively.

Together they helped push global wind capacity up by 44.7GW to 282.5GW. Some 40.6GW was added in 2011.

But the Middle East and African region may have only just seen the first stirrings of big things to come.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s first large commercial wind farm came on line in 2012, a 52 MW project in Ethiopia, and Steve Sawyer, Secretary General of GWEC, says the region is one to watch.

“This is just the beginning of the African market,” said Sawyer, “With construction started on 500-plus MW in South Africa, we expect Africa to be a substantial new market, where clean, competitive energy generated with indigenous sources is a priority for economic development.”

Europe also enjoyed a record year, adding a continent-wide 15.7GW of wind thanks to particularly strong contributions from Germany with 2.4GW and the UK with 1.9GW.

The latter was by far the most active offshore, with 854MW added in British waters in 2012.

Only Belgium with 184MW and China with 127MW even made it into three figures in terms of new offshore capacity.

GWEC says although they were dwarfed by the US, Canada and Mexico both performed solidly in North America to add 935MW and 801MW respectively.

Brazil added just under 1.1GW to dominate a Latin American market that GWEC describes as “otherwise relatively quiet”.

Australia was the Asia-Pacific powerhouse with its 358MW of new capacity.

GWEC expects the US market to slow after its 2012 exertions – but not nearly as sharply as would have been the case without the last-gasp extension of the PTC.

Europe is still feeling the effects of the financial crisis, making the outlook for 2013 there hard to call, but GWEC believes the conditions that held back installations last year in China and India are “expected to be short-lived, and Asian dominance of global wind markets is expected to continue”.