31 december 2015

Wind, solar power soar in spite of bargain prices for fossil fuels

By Joby Warrick, Washington Post, December 31

In normal times, a months-long slide in energy prices would be enough to rattle a man who makes wind turbines for a living. Yet amid a worldwide glut of cheap fossil fuels, business is blowing strong for Vestas Wind Systems and its CEO, Anders Runevad.

The company posted record gains in 2015 and inked major deals to build wind farms in the United States, Europe, Africa and Asia. That boom in turbine sales was part of a global surge for wind and solar energy, which occurred despite oil, coal and natural gas selling at bargain rates.


Vestas’s performance is emblematic of the changing fortunes for renewable energy, an industry that achieved a number of milestones this year.Massive new projects are under construction from China and India to Texas, which now far outpaces California as the nation’s leading wind-power state. Just this month, the United States crossed the 70-gigawatt threshold in wind-generated electricity, with 50,000 spinning turbines producing enough power to light up 19 million homes.

Energy analysts say the boom is being spurred in part by improved technology, which has made wind and solar more competitive with fossil fuels in many regions. But equally important, experts say, are new government policies here and abroad that favor investment in renewables, as well as a growing willingness by Wall Street to pour billions of dollars into projects once considered financially risky.


Signs of the industry’s momentum appear in surprising places.

In China, the world’s leader in both coal consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions, demand for coal is down for the second straight year, while investment in solar and wind is soaring, according to figures released this month by the International Energy Agency. China is expected to double its wind-power capacity to nearly 350 gigawatts over the next decade, more than any other country. Officials also intend to generate 200 gigawatts of solar by 2020.

India recently unveiled plans to install 175 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2022, and African nations have committed themselves to adding 300 gigawatts of clean-energy capacity by 2030.

A gigawatt—literally a billion watts—is roughly the amount of energy needed to power 700,000 typical American households. By comparison, the current capacity of the entire U.S. electric grid is just under 1,100 gigawatts.


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