A favorable wind is blowing for renewable energy these days amid mounting environmental concerns and fears of over-reliance on exhaustible fuels.
And it is blowing especially strong for the wind power sector, enabling the industry to achieve rapid expansion over the last decade.
According to Corin Millais, wind energy is certain to become the mainstream power supply source in the near future.
Millais is chief executive of the European Wind Energy Association, a nonprofit organization that promotes wind power with a membership of more than 15,000 worldwide, including businesses and organizations involved in wind power.
He says the wind turbines already constructed around the world can provide enough power to cover the electricity needs of 16 million average European households.
It is also the most commercially advanced technology tapping into renewable energy, he said.
He was in Tokyo recently to present the Japanese-language version of Wind Force 12 — a report jointly released in May by his organization and the environmental group Greenpeace — which shows that wind power will be able to meet 12 percent of global electricity demand by 2020.
“The growth of the (wind power) market has attracted all the business people to the industry and it is the fastest growing energy technology in the world,” Millais said in an interview with The Japan Times. “The growth is about 40 percent on average per year.”
According to Millais, 60,000 wind turbines have been installed around the world, three quarters of them in Europe. He said European firms dominate the global wind power market, supplying 90 percent of all wind-generated energy and creating 70,000 to 80,000 new jobs there.
Germany, Denmark and Spain are the top three nations, accounting for 70 percent of the world market in 2002, Millais said. In Denmark, one-fifth of the nation’s electricity already comes from wind power, he added.
Millais believes that the rapid growth can be attributed to advances in research and development that have enabled windmills to produce electricity in bulk, not to mention growing public awareness about environmental issues.
The market expansion has brought down the cost of wind power generation by 20 percent over the past five years, making it cost-efficient enough, for instance, to compete with gas, according to the EWEA-Greenpeace report.
Millais said a windmill usually lasts 20 years, and even though the initial construction costs are high, the running cost is a lot cheaper than conventional energy plants because there is no fuel to pay for. This makes wind power cheaper overall than conventional sources of energy supply, he said.
But many people, including in Japan, don’t have a full understanding of how advanced wind power is because it is mainly European countries that are enjoying the current market expansion, Millais said.
This also means that there is a huge business potential for countries outside of Europe.
“This is a global technology market that is very interesting for (Japanese) companies that have traditions in dominating global market with electronic goods and cars,” Millais said.
Wind power in Japan has seen rapid growth over the past two years, with 580 wind turbines as of March 2003. And now that the Kyoto Protocol for curbing greenhouse gas emissions is expected to take effect in the near future, the government aims to increase wind power output to 3,000 megawatts by 2010.
Millais acknowledges that there are some barriers in Japan that are common to most countries, including regulations covering the electricity grid, that must be dealt with. But he also said businesses cannot ignore the wind market’s potential.
“The Japanese community has an opportunity to be involved in that global market and it can be as manufacturers, component suppliers, project developers, financiers or as trading companies,” he said.