Whichever Way The Wind Blows

Wind power has become an increasingly viable part of the solution to help solve two of the world’s most pressing problems – global warming and energy supply independence. We wonder: Which country had the highest installed wind power capacity at the end of 2016?

A. Germany
B. India
C. United States
D. China

A. Germany … is not correct.

Germany has the world’s third-largest installed wind power capacity as of the end of 2016, according to the Global Wind Energy Council.

German wind power capacity in 2016 amounted to just over 50,000 megawatts. That is slightly more than 10% of all installed wind capacity worldwide.

To give a sense of scale, a typical coal-fired power generator within a coal power plant generates 500 megawatts of power. So, Germany’s total installed wind capacity is now about equal to 100 coal-fired generators.

An individual onshore wind turbine generates 2.5-3 megawatts (enough to power 1,500 EU homes), while an offshore turbine generates 3.6 megawatts on average (which can power more than 3,300 EU homes).

An offshore wind farm consisting of 100 turbines would generate 360 megawatts in total energy. That is less than a single generator in a coal plant, which often has several generators.

Within Europe, the next largest national source of wind power is Spain, with about 23,000 megawatts, a bit less than half of Germany’s capacity. Spain ranks fifth worldwide.

The United Kingdom ranks sixth globally, with about 14,500 megawatts of installed wind capacity. This could rise significantly if the country exploits huge offshore wind potential off its North Sea coasts, perhaps even rivaling major oil producers for energy output.

Seventh-ranked France is close behind with about 12,000 megawatts installed.

Italy rounds out Europe’s presence in the ten largest wind producing countries with its 10th-ranked installed capacity of nearly 9,300 megawatts in wind energy.

Five of the top 10 wind energy powers in the world are EU countries. Denmark is no longer among the top 10 producer countries, but Danish manufacturer Vestas remains the world’s largest turbine-maker.

B. India … is not correct.

India has the world’s fourth-largest installed wind capacity. The country generates nearly 6% of global wind power, with 28,700 megawatts.

India’s population of 1.3 billion needs extensive electrification, particularly to support air conditioning and safe water delivery in its sprawling cities. In addition, hundreds of millions of Indians need modernized fuel sources for cooking.

Absent much greater reliance on clean, green energy sources, the at times lethal levels of air pollution in India’s cities cannot be remedied.

Brazil, another major developing economy, is also a rising wind producer, ranking ninth worldwide with more than 10,700 megawatts of installed wind capacity. Brazil installed more than 2,000 megawatts of wind energy in 2016 alone, making the country the fifth-largest installer of new capacity that year.

C. United States … is not correct.

The United States has the world’s second-largest installed wind capacity, with nearly 82,200 megawatts in place. The United States accounts for just under 17% of the world’s installed wind capacity.

U.S. energy companies installed more than 8,200 megawatts of new capacity in 2016, which was 15% of new wind capacity for the year worldwide. Much of this new capacity comes from much larger turbines than in the past, which can generate more electricity.

Neighboring Canada at present has much less wind capacity installed, but also ranks among the top ten producer countries. In eighth place, Canada’s wind capacity of 11,900 megawatts is less than 2.5% of global capacity.

Canada only installed 702 megawatts of new wind capacity in 2016. That is less than the energy equivalent of one and a half coal-fired generators.

Beyond the top ten wind producing countries, the rest of the world combined has an installed wind capacity of nearly 75,600 megawatts – about 6,600 megawatts less than the United States by itself. The ten largest producers have 84.5% of the world’s installed wind capacity, while the rest of the world has just 15.5%.

D. China … is correct.

China has the world’s largest installed wind capacity, at more than 168,700 megawatts by the end of 2016, according to the Global Wind Energy Council. That is more than one third – 34.7% – of all installed capacity globally.

China was also the largest installer of new wind capacity in 2016, adding nearly 23,400 megawatts – equal to more than Spain’s entire installed wind capacity. About 43% of all new wind capacity in 2016 was added in China, which is now a key producer of wind turbine technologies.

Global wind capacity increased in 2016 by more than 54,600 megawatts. That output capacity is equivalent to about 109 typical coal-fired generators.

Historically, coal has historically been a reliable, low-cost source of power generation, outcompeting wind. But wind power has become a viable low-cost option, at least as a supplement to existing capacity, in many places.

In the United States, for example, where Chinese-owned Goldwind (the world’s third-largest turbine maker in 2016) has been installing turbines, wind power costs have fallen from 7¢ per kilowatt-hour in 2009 to 2¢ per kilowatt-hour in 2015 – just below the price of coal-generated electricity.

Word count: 828