Global wind power capacity tops nuclear energy for first time


The capacity of wind power generation worldwide reached 432.42 gigawatts (GW) at the end of 2015, up 17 percent from a year earlier and surpassing nuclear energy for the first time, according to data released by global industry bodies.

The generation capacity of wind farms newly built in 2015 was a record 63.01 GW, corresponding to about 60 nuclear reactors, according to the Global Wind Energy Council based in Brussels. The global nuclear power generation capacity was 382.55 GW as of Jan. 1, 2016, the London-based World Nuclear Association said.

Both wind power and nuclear energy are being touted as alternatives to fossil fuel power as they produce fewer greenhouse gases.

Wind energy has captured renewed attention as technological innovation has considerably lowered its generation costs while nuclear power continues to suffer a backlash following the 2011 Fukushima meltdowns.

Wind power is the leading energy source in the transition from fossil fuels to renewables, the wind energy council said as it released the data last week.

China led all other countries in wind energy generation capacity with 145.10 GW. Beijing is promoting wind power to shift from coal and other fossil fuels to combat air pollution and global warming.

Coming in second behind China is the United States with 74.47 GW, followed by Germany with 44.95 GW, then India with 25.09 GW and then Spain with 23.03 GW. Japan produced 3.04 GW.

  • vlady47

    It’s not just the on going nuclear crisis in Fukushima that has hurt nuclear energy, it’s hazardous waste product must be isolated for thousands of years and is a huge security risk!

  • Earthling

    Big deal, but wind power is still unreliable, an eye sore and expensive.

  • TimS

    Luckless birds and bats.

  • GRLCowan

    Equal capacity to nuclear power stations means one-third the production. That would be a lot.

    But it comes at a cost. On occasions such as October 30, 2013 in the Piet de Wit wind farm in the Netherlands and February 22, 2012 at the Zhurihe one in China, workers have been caught and killed in wind turbine fires. These fatalities, although few, can properly be compared to the worldwide total, in all time, from caches of nuclear power station waste: zero.

  • HansB50

    Japanese journalists should know that even in Japan and also in the rest of the world the wind ist not continuous blowing, but very randomly. The power of a wind turbine depends out of physics laws for the third power of the wind speed. Therfore half of the maximum wind speed generates only one eight of the power , and that is in reality a cross rate of about 25% maximum installed power.
    Means that the named chinese wind turbines with a max power of 145GW produce only about 36GW crossrate and need a backup of fossile coal plants in the same range.
    it would be a desater of chinese industry if the fossiles are not available but it is not critical if their is no wind!

  • Adam_Antatheist

    Why are my comments not being permitted?

  • Adam_Antatheist

    Why are my comments not being permitted?

  • Adam_Antatheist

    Strange, that one was. I wonder if this one will be:

    A further 1480.3 GW of wind turbine capacity would have to be added to reach the same nett generation figure as the current nuclear power one.

    At the record 2015 rate of installation of 60.01 GW, it would take a further 24.6 years before the nuclear power figure is reached.

  • Adam_Antatheist

    Mmmm! That one was also. Here are the first three paragraphs:

    The 382.55 GW quoted for nuclear power is the nett generation capacity at the end of 2015.

    In 2006, the capacity factor for the world’s wind turbines was 19.2%. It peaked in 2008 at 24.5% and in 2010 (latest figures) it works out at 20%. See Wikipedia’s – Wind power by country.

    The installed capacity of 432.4 GW for wind at the end of 2015 means the nett generating capacity is only 20% of this; that is – 86.48 GW, which is only 22.6% of the nuclear power capacity.

  • RussellLowes

    It is nice to see a reporter state that nuclear and wind both produce CO2 — in the manufacturing phases, of course. Many call both CO2-free, an error many young students will detect. Two meta-studies on nukes put the average at 65 grams/kilowatt-hour. They don’t count the occasional Fukushima rebuild and the CO2 output associated with cement production, etc., nor the increased CO2 from extra mining when the ore content goes down even lower than it has already. Nor do they count the rebuilding of containment structures over and over as they degrade. Wind, on the other hand has been documented at about 10 grams/kWhe. Nukes to wind is 65 g/kWhe+ vs. 10 g.

  • WhatTheFlux

    Total hogwash.

    Wind’s capacity factor is about 20%. Nuclear’s CP is about 90%. Plus, wind turbines last maybe 20 years. Reactors last at least 60 years.

    You might want to actually study the subject before reporting on it. Unless the editors are paying you to propagandize against nuclear power.

    By the way, if you want to do a real story about nuclear power, why don’t you do a comparative analysis of Fukushima vs Onagawa?

    Onagawa was twice as close to the epicenter, which means it experience twice the force. And all 4 of their reactors came through the earthquake and the tsunami virtually unscathed.

    Maybe the public would like to know some actual reality-based information for a change.

  • Roy Warner

    Greenhouse gases can be captured and stored. That issue is a red herring.

  • Stoatwblr

    Agree with other commenters.

    Installed wind capacity is “potential” capacity. What matters is what’s actually produced – and that’s usually something around 15-20% of that potential unless those windfarms are somewhere the wind never stops blowing (and doesn’t blow “too hard”)

    Installed nuclear capacity is run at 100% of potential at all times, except when down for maintenance, resulting in a generated output around 98-99% of what’s quoted.

    Windpower Deaths per TWh generated is 5-10 times higher than for “unsafe” nuclear energy – windmills are dangerous – broken blades can go 2-3km (real world experiences), so they need a large safety exclusion zone. They’re also noisy and the big ones break their gearboxes at such a rate (or catch fire due to gearbox failure) that income from electricity generated never quite pays for installation + maintenance. They are only profitable when they’re _NOT_ generating electricity – a stationary windmill collects subsidies just as quickly as a generating one.

    1% of the amount of money spent on windmills could be used to bring safer(*) molten salt nuclear plants to reality. Meantime we make a song and dance about Fukushima being dangerous when noone died and the radioactivity in the area (after explosions and meltdowns which were 100% avoidable if TEPCO management hadn’t been criminally incompetent) is lower than what’s “normal” in Denver Colorado (altitude), Helsinki, Finland or the UK’s Yorkshire Dales (Granite) any hot spring you care to mention (dissolved radioactives from the rocks) or inside any building made of stone.

    Here’s some basic stuff: Carpeting the world in windmills and solar PV(**) would almost replace existing electricity generation capacity worldwide.

    1: Eliminating gas/oil heating systems would double world electrical requirements.
    2: Moving to electric vehicles would double that again.
    3: Helping the poorer parts of the world to “catch up” would multiply those demands by a factor of _at least_ 5 – and bringing the poorer parts of the world out of poverty is the only long-term solution to the global population crisis (richer people have fewer children)
    4: The infrastructure required to link all that Solar and wind generation from where it is to where it’s needed would be the largest project the planet has _ever_ seen, requiring the entire metals output of all the world’s iron+copper+bauxite mines for decades

    (*) Molten Salt Reactor systems.
    Can’t catch fire. (Whoever though molten sodium was a good idea as coolant?)
    Can’t melt down. (already molten)
    Not pressurised. (don’t boil, so don’t need it, You can actually run the vessel at a slight vacuum)
    No radioactive steam. (no radioactive water to boil)
    No radioactive water. (no water in contact with radioactives)
    No hydrogen explosion risk. (no water. See next point)
    Can’t overheat (long story to do with nuclear theory, but the fission process throttles itself about 1100C, which is why the inside of a conventional fuel rod hits about this temperature under normal circumstances and why when the circulating cooling pumps fail in a conventional reactor, water breaks down to hydrogen)
    Run extremely hot (able to directly drive steelmaking and cement manufacture. For electricity generation, don’t need water cooling, so don’t need siting next to water bodies or derating in hot weather AND the higher temperature results in much more efficient generators)

    LFTR versions have millions of tons of fuel already available without requiring “enrichment” (which throws away 60% of the uranium that was mined before it ever sees the inside of a reactor – that “thrown out” “depleted uranium” is both a toxic heavy metal (majorly bad when cleaning up battlefields) and extremely handy for making hydrogen bombs),
    1% of the waste output levels of current nuclear technology (which are already low – the entire lifetime waste from a conventional plant will sit in a single olympic swimming pool and be safe enough to approach in 300 years.)
    Extremely difficult to extract anything capable of being made into a nuclear bomb without crippling the reactor (ie, very noticeable)
    And finally – the designs are intrinsically safe – a malicious actor (or completely incompetent management) can’t make them do anything except shut down. Molten salts “freeze” at around 400C, so any leak tends to be both “self sealing” and unlikely to go more than a few cm from the vessel before solidifying, plus the salts are not water soluble.

    (**) Solar PV is NOT environmentally friendly. The areas in China where most panels are made are a complete environmental disaster and if the mess spreads it could render large chunks of chinese urban areas unihabitable due to permanently contaminated drinking water.

  • philofthefuture

    Nuclear is dead, stick a fork in it, it’s done. Fukushima was bad enough but that aside they have priced themselves out of the market. Yes solar is massively subsidized but nuclear can’t even be built without government backing so subsies are moot.
    If you want to know the future just look where the research dollars are going. Wind, solar, natural gas, and storage technologies including hydrogen.

  • philofthefuture

    Yes the article is dishonest to say the least but here’s the thing, no matter how cheap coal, oil, natural gas, uranium get they cannot compete with free. Sun and wind are free.
    That means they will win in the end, period. Solar even without subsidies has reached a crossover with coal in many areas and that will only continue. The same with wind. Their technologies are on a downward cost curve, fossils are flat to increasing. That makes it a question of not if, but when we will transition. Germany pushed too far too fast, other countries aren’t doing much at all, I think the US is doing it right. It will take decades, not years, but it is inevitable. Technology, cost trends, and research dollars leave no doubt.

  • jimhopf

    To echo what many other posters are saying, the fact that the article only talks about rated capacity, and does not even mention capacity factors or annual generation (kW-hrs), borders on journalistic malpractice.

  • Get Outside, Dave!

    A lot of comments making “definitive” statements about “”wind’s capacity factor” are confusing global averages for production with some kind of natural limit. And the 20 – 25% values being bandied about are just wrong. This is bogus – capacity factors are collectively determined by many variables, including (1) the mechanics of the specific turbine (rapidly evolving), (2) the wind resource at each location (varies hugely), and (3) the transmission infrastructure, often built out after the wind farms. The worst capacity factor in the US in 2012 was 16%, with all other wind farms ranging from 20.6% to as high as 42.5%, with a median of 40% onshore to 43% offshore.

    Keep in mind that current worldwide average capacity factors includes old, inefficient wind farms – the world’s first offshore wind farm at Vindeby (with what are now dinky 450 kW turbines) is only now being decommissioned at 25 years old. New offshore wind farms use 5 – 6 MW turbines, with 8 MW turbines coming. New wind turbines are taller and have larger rotors, both of which increase capacity factor. Previous average capacity factors also included farms than hadn’t been connected to wider grids, and therefore suffered from a lot of curtailment. ERCOT in Texas and other grid operators are dramatically reducing curtailment and increasing capacity factors by building new transmission lines.

    Better siting, better technology, and new connections means that newer wind farms can hit 50% capacity factors.