Across the globe, countries are focusing more than ever on sustainable, domestic energy solutions. For many of them, wind turbines are the solution.
The wind power industry has experienced an unprecedented growth in recent years, with 2015 proving to be the most successful year yet. In 2015 alone, the global wind industry received $109 billion in investments, making it one of the fastest growing industrial markets in the world. This money went toward creating 1,100,000 global jobs, installing 12,107 GW of offshore wind power and producing 3.7 percent of total global electricity.
As of 2016, 26 countries worldwide have more than 1,000 MW of wind power installed within their borders. 14 countries have more than 5,000 MW installed, and eight have more than 10 GW, including the United States, China and Germany. As a result of their focus on wind energy, many of these countries have experienced positive results both environmentally and economically, prompting the renewable energy surge to continue forward.
The Attraction of Wind
Much of the attraction to wind power has to do with the benefits wind energy has to offer. These primarily include environmental, economic and efficiency advantages.
Many power plants produce energy by burning fossil fuels like coal or natural gas. This common process produces carbon dioxide, or CO2 emissions, which contribute to acid rain and the accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Wind turbines bypass this system entirely, using turbines to capture kinetic energy from the wind and convert it into electricity. By increasing their wind power production and reducing the use of fossil fuel combustion plants, governments and companies have contributed to the reduction of greenhouse gasses worldwide. In 2015 alone, wind power helped reduce global CO2 emissions by 637 million tons.
However, environmental benefits are not the only improvements wind energy has to offer. In addition to being atmosphere-friendly, wind power turbines are also immensely energy-efficient. Wind power farms generate between 17 and 39 times as much power as they consume. Compare this to 16 times more power for nuclear plants and 11 times for coal plants.
Finally, many countries see numerous economic benefits offered by wind power. Wind power is a domestic source of energy, contributing to the national economy by increasing the number of available jobs, reducing dependence on foreign energy sources and making use of underused land. Additionally, turbines are a worthwhile investment, with each taking three to six months to earn back the energy used in its construction and lasting up to 25 years.
All of these beneficial factors have led to countries worldwide looking at wind energy as a viable alternative to fossil fuels. Some of the more prominent countries and regions follow.
China is a powerhouse in the wind energy market, second in the world only to the United States. China produced 185.1 million megawatt-hours in 2015, doing so with 92,981 wind turbines across the country. The Chinese wind industry is continuously growing, with Chinese wind turbine installations accounting for 48.6 percent of the total global wind installations in 2015.
As a whole, China is committing heavily to wind power, with each province participating in the wind power movement. Two Chinese provinces are producing over 10 gigawatts annually, and two more following closely behind. Inner Mongolia was the first province to reach the momentous milestone, with Xin Jian Province reaching it at the end of 2015. Gansu and HeBei Provinces are expected to follow within the next few years.
The European Union
Wind power was the most installed power generation source in 2015, showing that it is the fastest growing energy industry in Europe. That year alone, 44.2 percent of all power capacity installations in Europe were wind installations, resulting in a huge boost to wind energy production throughout the EU.
In Spain alone, 11 percent of the country’s energy comes from wind power generation, and 10,000,000 homes receive power from wind energy. In fact, Spain has the fourth largest wind market in the world, following Germany. This fact isn’t too surprising considering the number of turbines in use in the EU. The European Union sported a whopping 3,230 offshore wind turbines at the end of 2015. Each of these six-megawatt offshore turbines can power an average of 5,500 EU households, together providing enough power to support 17,765,000 homes throughout the European Union.
In practice, wind power makes up approximately 11.4 percent of total electricity consumption. Some states use wind power much more than others, most notably Spain, Germany and Denmark. Germany is third in the world in wind production, followed closely by Spain, and produces 84.6 million megawatt-hours annually. Denmark is just as impressive, however, with 42 percent of its electricity consumption coming from wind energy in 2015. Denmark’s government has made a public statement regarding their wind energy production, stating they hope to increase it to 50 percent by 2020.
Despite the numerous changes involved in switching from coal to wind, the general population views wind power very favorably. 89 percent of EU citizens polled in favor of wind power in 2011, and this number has stayed relatively consistent since then. This is largely due to the recognized environmental benefits of wind power compared to fossil fuels, as well as the growing international concern for environmental conservation.
However, citizens also see several direct economic benefits from the switch. The wind energy industry in Europe provides a great deal of job growth and stability for the population — the wind industry in Europe is expected to grow enough to provide jobs to 520,000 jobs to European citizens by 2020.
India is the world’s fifth largest wind market, with around 27 GW produced annually, accounting for 9 percent of its total energy production. Currently, the country is set to grow 30 percent annually, adding 4,300 MW in 2017. This is following a “historic” year of growth for the renewable energy industry in India — the wind energy industry grew an unprecedented 43 percent in 2015, installing 3,300 MW of capacity within the year. This growth of the industry in 2015 resulted in India reducing their annual carbon emissions by over 58.56 million tons, the equivalent of planting 1.76 billion trees.
Much of this incredible development in the wind industry over the past few years has been the result of private investments, totaling over $3 billion. Between these investments and the resulting growth the Indian wind industry is experiencing, many expect Indian wind energy production to surpass other leaders in coming years.
In 2015, wind farms produced 33.7 percent of Australia’s clean energy and 4.9 percent of its overall electricity, comparable to many countries worldwide. This comes from 76 wind farms throughout Australia, 2062 turbines producing 4187 MW total. Five of these wind farms became operational in 2015, adding 196 turbines and 380 MW to the country’s wind industry.
These additional wind turbines have proven to be extremely beneficial to the Australian energy economy, having a rather odd effect in June 2016. Within that month, wind power generated 49 percent of all electricity used by South Australians. For many, this is an example of how much wind energy can benefit Australian energy as a whole.
The majority of Australians find wind power to be extremely beneficial to the country’s prosperity, as well as the local economy. In fact, for each 50 MW of capacity, the average Australian wind farm provides long-term direct employment for 50 people, indirect temporary construction jobs for over 1,400 people and substantial extra income for farmers and landowners renting out the land.
At the end of 2013, Africa’s total installed wind capacity was around 1,463 MW for the entire continent. However, that has changed over the past few years. 999 MW was installed in 2014, bringing the total to 2,462 MW, with developments taking place in Morocco, South Africa, Egypt and the Sahara.
The primary draws for African nations to adopt wind power are self-reliance and cost effectiveness. Wind power provides a cheap alternative to fossil fuels, and keeps energy production local. This is a particularly attractive option for many rural areas in South Africa and Saharan countries, as wind farms keep production local, provide abundant jobs for local residents and make up for their initial cost within a few months.
Brazil is a major leader within the South American wind energy market, installing a total 2754 MW of wind power capacity in 2015. This dedication to clean energy has cut CO2 emissions within the country by over five million tons annually. With a countrywide annual capacity of 8.7 million gigawatts and a growing wind power sector, Brazil is well on its way to becoming the sixth-largest wind market worldwide. Many expect this to occur as soon as Brazil’s economy stabilizes, ideally within the next few years.
Mexico is right behind Brazil as a regional leader, having grown their wind power capacity by 1.2 GW in 2015 to bring it to an impressive 3,073 MW. This growth coincides with similar developments in Chile and Argentina, where wind capacity grew to 933 MW and 279 MW respectively All three states are treated throughout the South American continent as energy leaders within their regions, and are expected to grow even further over the next few years.
The United States
Last, but certainly not least, is the United States. The U.S. is a major leader in global wind energy production, producing over 190 million megawatt-hours in 2015, enough to power 17.5 million households. This wind-generated power constituted 4.7 percent of the total energy produced in the United States in 2015.
Over the past ten years, wind power capacity in the United States has increased an average of 30 percent per year, outpacing the 28 percent growth worldwide. This has been largely due to the steady increase of installed turbines throughout the United States. At the end of 2015, the United States had a total of 48,500 wind turbines.
While many Americans have their doubts about wind power as a viable long-term alternative to fossil fuels, no one can claim it isn’t a source of profit for farmers and landowners. A tenth of a hectare, if used for a wind turbine, could earn the landowner a total of $10,000 per year, as opposed to $300 using that tenth for corn for ethanol. These wind farms can be built upon existing farms or ranches, benefitting rural economies and supporting American farmers.
The United States is particularly interested in the wind industry’s ability to create stable jobs. Wind industry jobs in manufacturing, installation, maintenance and support services are extremely valuable and very stable, the result of the United States’ large and established alternative energy industry. In 2014, the United States wind energy industry invested more than $8 billion in the U.S. economy to build projects and employ over 73,000 workers. These jobs continue to expand year after year, and many projections expect this job growth to continue, supporting more than 600,000 jobs by 2050.
Training For Worldwide Wind Industry Jobs
The wind power industry provides jobs for thousands of people across the world, from construction to sales and maintenance. Some of the most important people within the industry, however, are technicians. These technicians ensure the turbines work properly, scheduling and completing routine maintenance on each turbine so they continue to function at peak efficiency. These technicians are well trained in the particulars of turbine mechanics and troubleshooting, ready to spend hours on a turbine to fix whatever problem may come their way. However, some problems with the worldwide industry make a technician’s job more difficult.
Many turbines today are shipped from overseas, and may not meet United States safety standards. This is a particularly troubling problem considering that turbines include a number of electrical components. These electrical turbine components make up a small portion of the turbine, and an even smaller part of the routine maintenance tasks of a wind turbine technician. However, these components are even riskier than many mechanical turbine components, putting technicians at risk if they are not properly trained to handle these situations.
To ensure the safety of their wind turbine technicians, wind energy companies need to train their employees on the subjects of electrical and workplace safety. Some choose online programs, though these do not meet OSHA standards. Others may simply choose to do in-house training, but this can be equally problematic — your in-house training may not include key information required by OSHA, placing your company and your technicians at physical and financial risk. To this end, Technical Skills Development is the perfect resource.
Technical Skills Development provides a complete Wind Turbine Technician course, designed to educate and prepare technicians in electrical hazards and safe working practices. Our wind turbine training is a complete one-day course designed to get your technicians up to speed as quickly as possible, all while meeting OSHA requirements.
To learn more about our course and what it can do to help prepare your company and your workers for the rapidly expanding global wind industry, visit Technical Skills Developments’ course description page, or contact us today.