January 11, 2011 | Industry Events + Conferences

A Look Back

A recent trip to Beijing for the China Wind Power 2010 conference offered me the rare opportunity to reflect back on the future of the wind energy industry. You may have had that sensation of deja vu, the sudden realization you have seen a specific scene before, but the strength of the sensation on this trip was rare for me, and humbling.

In 2008, I was also invited to speak at the Global Wind Power Conference in Beijing. At the time, the wind industry was expanding exponentially worldwide. Our greatest industry challenge was meeting demand. That context made the projection I heard in 2008 for China's future role all the more striking. The speaker detailed China's vision, and more importantly, its commitment to implement a future for wind energy where:

  • Wind energy was a major source of energy for the nation
  • China was a an international technology leader and exporter of renewable energy
  • Air quality was improved through the extensive use of wind energy
  • Wind farm production would bring new jobs for Chinese workers

Two years later, during my return trip in 2010, I saw clear evidence of this future projection brought to life. In the context of a global recession, the numbers are compelling:

  • China now has well over 25 GW installed wind energy capacity… doubling in nearly each of recent years
  • The largest proposed project in the world is the 10,000 MW Gansu Wind Farm in China, and another four like it are planned for completion by the end of 2016
  • Most of the non-Chinese wind turbine manufacturers have plants in China, or are planning them.
  • There are now over eighty turbine manufacturers in China, including small wind manufacturers.

The experience raised many questions in my mind. How did China move so quickly from vision to reality? What's holding back the United States? What can be duplicated here in North America? What do we want to avoid? I know there are economists and scholars who can debate this subject ad nauseam, but from where I sit, here are the lessons to be learned:

  • Vision can become reality
  • Government goals and incentives DO matter
  • Transmission matters

If I had to pick one thing that would have the greatest impact on the wind industry worldwide, it would be uniting behind a shared vision. To me, it's just hard to imagine we can get to a better place if we can't agree where we want to go.