The Wind of Change

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There is a wind of change blowing across the world. In Kenya, this wind blows a paltry 0.1 percent into the national grid. But this isn’t because the wind is not blowing. Indeed, Bubisa wind corridor in Marsabit County, which is in northern Kenya, has one of the strongest wind flows in the world.

Investors are finally catching up with Kenya’s blowing wind. The Lake Turkana Wind Power consortium has already started building what will be Africa’s largest wind farm. Once complete, the farm will provide 300MW of low cost power. That a remote part of Kenya, barely accessible by road will provide this much electricity is a testament to the potency of wind.

Away from Kenya, this wind has been blowing huge amounts of electricity into Germany’s national grid. Germany’s onshore wind capacity in 2013 was a staggering 33,730 MW. In the same year, four German states had enough wind capacity to meet over 50 percent of their electricity needs. For these states, wind was not just an energy foot soldier but a fundamental player.

The wind of change blew into Germany’s legislative arena through the Energiewende, a commitment to transition into renewable energy and cut greenhouse gas by 80 – 95 percent by 2050. This legislation’s other key components include:  60 percent share of renewables by 2050; increased energy efficiency and revamped research and development.

Energiewende literally means ‘energy turn.’ Just like it is for a huge locomotive, this turn is not instantaneous. It is gradual and takes time. Wind is greatly aiding the turn and enhancing Germany’s transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. The first half of 2014 saw the installation of 1,723 megawatts, which was a 66 percent growth compared to 2013. By the end of 2014, Germany expects to have installed up to 3,700 megawatts which will cause its total installed onshore capacity to romp closer to the 40,000 megawatts mark.

Indeed, the wind of change is blowing more and more electricity into Germany’s national grid and in the process powering on Germany’s famed manufacturing industry.

The wind of change is also blowing into the vast sub-continent of India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is determined to tap fully into wind and generate an average of 10,000 MW every year. This might seem too ambitious but India is not a novice in wind power. According to the Renewables 2014 Global Status Report, India ranks fifth in the world in wind power production. It installed over 1.7GW in 2013 leaving it with a total approaching 20.2 GW. The four countries ahead of India are Spain, Germany, United States and China.

This sterling 2013 performance in the wind sector left a smile on the faces of both environmentalists and economists.  India’s Suzlon Group was 2013’s seventh wind turbine manufacturer in the world. Its market share of 5.3 percent was not too far behind Denmark’s Vestas, whose market share of 13.1 ranked it first.

India projects that its total installed capacity will be 38.5 GW by 2022, thus creating a US$ 31.25 billion opportunity in the wind energy market. If this happens, the wind of change will have entrenched India into the green economy’s top echelons.

China is similarly riding on the wind of change. Having added an estimated 16.1 GW in 2013 alone, it is actually at the very helm of wind energy production.  Its total installed capacity is a staggering 91.4 GW, reinforcing wind as China’s third source of electricity, behind coal and hydro. It is therefore clear that China will continue riding on wind to reach its target of 200 GW of installed capacity by 2020. This windy ride augurs well for China’s economy because the vast nation remains the world’s largest manufacturer and trading nation.

The wind of change has been blowing hot and cold in the US but it is there nonetheless. In 2008, the US Department of Energy realized the immense potency of wind energy and released a report entitled, ‘20% wind energy by 2030.’ The report states that, ‘the 20 percent Wind Scenario would require an installation rate of 16 GW per year after 2018.’ It then spells out how this can be done.

America’s wind sector has already provided employment for 50,000 Americans. Many of them work in the more than 500 manufacturing facilities that are located all over the US. This underlines the wind of change’s potential to create jobs that will have direct impacts on people’s lives and the society as a whole.

In the last seven years, wind has been responsible for 33 percent of America’s newly installed electricity generation capacity. By the end of 2013, wind power capacity had reached 61 GW, leaving the US as runner-up to China in that year’s wind race. The 61GW was enough to power 16 million American homes.

The wind of change has also been busy generating energy in Oceania. By the end of 2013, Australia had 1,639 wind turbines spread across 68 wind farms and generating 3,240 MW. This active wind sector has immense economic benefits for Australia. For every 50 MW generated, a wind farm employs at least 48 construction workers who end up spending a total of US$1.2 million. Other benefits are numerous, ranging from indirect jobs provided to local communities to land rental revenue for local farmers.

Australia has a renewable energy target scheme whose overriding goal is to ensure that by 2020, the country will be drawing 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. Although there is still a lot of work to do for this future goal to be realized, there are some current realities that vindicate this wind power-laden future. One such current reality can be found in South Australia. In July this year (2014), South Australia’s wind farms produced enough electricity to meet a record 43 percent of the state’s power needs. During some days of that month, wind energy actually met 100 percent of the State’s power needs!

Africa too, has not been spared by the wind of change. According to South Africa’s Integrated Resource Plan, South Africa seeks to supply a total of 3,725 MW of renewable energy by 2016 and 17,800 MW by 2030. This path will leave US$457 million in local communities by 2020. Indeed, whenever wind blows energy into existence, money follows. But before this wind can thus blow, money is also needed. Investors are increasingly understanding this and investing accordingly. South Africa, together with Kenya and Ethiopia will be recipients of US$5.9 billion renewable energy investments this year (2014).

The wind of change blows powerfully into Ethiopia’s Ashigoda Wind Farm which was opened in 2013. It generates up to 400 million kilowatt hours every year and is playing a fundamental part in Ethiopia’s quest to have a climate resilient economy by 2025.

The wind of change however runs into headwinds frequently. Countries like Nigeria, which is Africa’s largest economy, are yet to fully embrace wind energy and renewable energy as a whole. Could it because Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer? Fossil fuels and their many stakeholders present powerful headwinds for wind energy. Accompanying economies of scale sometimes tilt towards fossil fuels, leaving public and private sector players scratching their heads – some in glee but others in helpless resignation.

Ironically, sustainability issues especially in relation to wind turbines and their environmental impacts, are also headwinds that need to be honestly addressed. The quest for clean energy should not sacrifice other vital components of sustainability.

 

The fact that wind energy faces such challenges should nonetheless not impact it negatively. In the ancient words of Kenya’s Lamu Island fishermen, ‘don’t fight the wind but align your sails and let it lead you home.’ 

DJ Bwakali

Words can inspire action and change the world

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