• Andrew Byrne

China the force behind the wind power industry's record year




Another day, another report illustrating the continuing rise of wind power capacity as it is revealed that the global commissioning of windfarms reached new record levels in 2020. Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BloombergNEF or BNEF) – strategic analysts and advisers on energy transition – published research on March 10th which indicates that installations increased by 59% against 2019.


Against a backdrop of Covid-19 induced stasis in so many sectors, this impressive statistic owes much to China which accounted for more than half of the new wind power capacity. Around the world, 96.3GW (gigawatts) of new capacity was commissioned during the year – a significant hike on the 60.7GW from 2019.

Offshore

New capacity from offshore windfarms stalled at the 2019 level – about 6GW. However, this figure remains impressive given the challenges encountered by site closures, part-closures and issues with supply chain. Despite mitigating factors working against the sector, 2020 will still go down as the second best year on record for new offshore capacity.

China was responsible for 3.1GW of the new capacity with that amount bolstered by a rush to avail of government subsidies ahead of their cut-off at year end. This would indicate that the offshore sector will struggle to maintain momentum in 2021 although should the world recover from the pandemic amid a “green recovery”, the outlook will remain positive.


The UK remains the top market for cumulative offshore capacity although China has almost caught up. The intriguing presence of one newcomer in particular in this sector is noteworthy. In May 2020, the Windplus consortium saw their WindFloat Atlantic project become the first operational floating windfarm off continental Europe when it started to feed the Portuguese grid. Much is expected from this emerging source of renewable energy.


Onshore

China was equally dominant in the installation of new onshore capacity in 2020 with their 55GW of new volume matching the global combined onshore and offshore wind growth in 2019. Again, availing of the government incentives contributed to this but the surprisingly aggressive target set by the Chinese government in September – a pledge to be carbon neutral by 2060 – augurs well for their future.


Analysts and commentators will, however, be aware that China has sent out some mixed messages about their renewed enthusiasm for coal-fired plants. The US, a comparatively new arrival to the offshore wind sector, saw 16.5GW of new wind capacity being installed onshore in 2020. Similar to events in China, availing of a government tax credit scheme was a significant factor here.

Installers

The BNEF report details the companies whose manufacture of wind turbines have led to the impressive 2020 figures. The market has contracted somewhat here as half of the turbines deployed were manufactured by just four companies. General Electric (13.5GW) were marginally ahead of Goldwind (13.1GW) with Vestas (12.4GW) and Envision (10.3GW) the other companies commissioned over 10GW during the year.

The BNEF report will soon be followed by Global Wind Report 2021 – the influential state-of-the-sector report from the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) where many of the sweeping assessments made on the wind power industry become incorporated into policies and strategies, both at company and governmental level.