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July 25, 2012
Paul Gipe

WWEA 2012 Small Wind World Report--A Review


 

I wasn't going to review this book. I am flooded with books and reports--most of which sit on the shelf waiting for me to get to them. Some have been there years.

I was just going to pick up the World Wind Energy Association's 2012 Small Wind World Report and extract a few useful numbers to keep myself abreast of the small turbine industry. But once I began leafing through it, I thought others might be interested in this book and the picture it paints of the growth of interest in small wind turbines.

Every author and every book has a contribution to make in understanding the world around us and in this case the business of small wind. I previously reviewed the Folkecenter's 2012 small wind turbine catalogue, so I should give some time to WWEA's contribution.

Definitions of small wind vary worldwide. Most conform to the IEC 61400-2 definition: less than 200 m² of rotor swept area. In practice, this is equivalent to ~50 kW, though in Germany Bundesverband Windenergie (BWE) uses 75 kW as the demarcation between small wind and all other wind turbines in their annual "market overlook". Other countries have chosen to limit "small wind" to turbines less than 100 kW in capacity or in some combination of rotor swept area and rated capacity.

The authors of the 2012 Small Wind World Report see an increasing role for small wind turbines connected to the grid relative to off-grid turbines and an increasing capacity per turbine as a result.

Bear in mind that small wind turbines are best suited for off-grid applications at remote sites where central-station power is non-existent. That fact hasn't changed since the 1930s. It's when small wind wants to compete with ever cheaper solar PV and large wind turbines that the future growth of the industry may be limited.

A particular feature of the book is the description of small wind development in the countries represented. This makes the book useful for getting a quick overall picture of programs, policies, and the status of small wind around the world. For someone like me, this is ideal and that's the reason I picked it up.

 

While I suppose it's obligatory for books such as this to include pictures of some VAWTs--and even some whacko rooftop-mounted ducted turbines--to lend the appearance of "objectivity" and "fairness", this doesn't really serve the interests of renewable energy or even that of the small wind industry. Inclusion of such "products"--and I am being charitable here--gives credibility to designs, and their promoters which, in the end, will just do more damage to the reputation of the industry. Critics of wind energy and renewable energy in general quickly determine that an industry which won't police itself is not to be trusted. Our enemies in the fossil fuel and nuclear industry prey on these crackpot inventions to disparage an entire industry.

Fortunately, the book makes up for this "error of inclusion" with data on the installed cost of small wind and the growth of the industry by country. And WWEA makes it clear that small VAWTs are still a minor player in the market,. VAWTs remain more a novelty than anything else.

Ease of entry leads to a plethora of models on the very low end of the size scale and the WWEA says there are some 600 products on the market worldwide rated at less than 1 kW.

WWEA says the average cost of small wind in the US ranges from $3,000/kW to $6,000/kW. This compares with what I've reported.

Where the WWEA excels is in reporting on data from China and other non-English speaking countries. The installed cost of small wind in China is only $1,600/kW, a fraction of that in North America and Europe.

WWEA's 2012 Small Wind Report also includes a catalog listing contact information for 344 manufacturers worldwide that industry veterans will find useful.

The small wind market is growing, says WWEA, in part because of a growing trend worldwide in the use of feed-in tariffs. The best example of this is Great Britain which launched its feed-in tariff program in 2010.

Small wind is booming in Great Britain because of their feed-in tariff. Britain has always had a small turbine industry but never much of a domestic market. Now new manufacturers are setting up shop to serve the new market. In 2011 Britain installed as much small wind capacity as installed in the entire US.

While it may be some before Britain catches up with the US in total installed capacity, it has the capacity to do so. Literally overnight Britain has become one of the world's major markets for small wind turbines.

 

It is the nature of the small wind industry that its statistics are always a year or two behind that of the commercial industry. WWEA's 2012 report is no different, offering stats up through 2010--at best. Nevertheless, the data is useful for gauging the scale of small turbine installations worldwide in comparison to the rest of the wind industry.

Unfortunately, the overall status of the industry remains underwhelming. Despite the decades of development and the recent growth in installations, the industry remains a miniscule niche of the world's wind industry.

Small wind accounts for 0.2% of the world's total installed wind capacity and only 0.1% of the world's 2010 production of wind-generated electricity.

2012 Small Wind World Report by the World Wind Energy Association, April 2012, ISBN 978-3-940683-04-5, pp 138, Bonn, Germany, €60, Order directly from WWEA.


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