Wind is an indirect form of solar energy. Winds are caused by the uneven heating of the atmosphere by the sun, the irregularities of the earth's surface, and rotation of the earth. Wind flow patterns are further modified by the earth's terrain, bodies of water, and vegetation.
Wind power potential
In terms of total potential, wind has much lower potential compared to solar in many parts of the world. In specific countries however, the potential could be significant. For example, wind power in China accounted for 25.1 gigawatts (GW) of electricity generating capacity at the end of 2009, and China has identified wind power as a key growth component of the country's economy. Some researchers have found that China could meet all of their electricity demands from wind power through 2030.
World-wide wind power installed capacity is estimated to reach 830 GW in 2020 and close to 1,800 GW by 2030.
USA and Germany are the top two wind power producing countries worldwide, as of 2010 with total installed capacity of 35,159 MW and 25,777 MW respectively. However, China (25,104 MW) is catching up fast with these two, and countries such as Spain (19,149 MW) and India (10,929 MW) are the other countries in the top 5.
Top turbine manufacturers
The top turbine manufacturers in order include GE Energy, Vestas, Siemens, Suzlon, Gamesa, Clipper, Mitsubishi, Acciona WP, Repowe, Fuhrlander, DeWind, AWE. The turbine market is still fairly concentrated, with the top eight companies accounting for over 98% of the new capacity added. New companies are entering the U.S. market each year, however 2008 saw turbines installed in the U.S. by newcomers to the U.S. market Acciona, REpower, Fuhrlander, DeWind, and AWE.
Wind has been used as a source of energy for centuries and specifically as a source of electricity since the early 1970s. Currently, wind based power is a fairly mature industry, with about 200 GW of wind based power installed worldwide. While it is still only a small fraction of the total electricity installed capacity, owing to the industry maturity, and the competitive costs of wind power (which is only about 10-20% higher than coal based power in regions of optimal wind speeds), wind is one of the most attractive business opportunities worldwide.
A glimpse of the type of business opportunities
As an industry, wind energy is a well established industry worldwide with prominent players already establishing themselves along the key points in the value chain. There are however a number of new opportunities for new movers, as many countries worldwide (read India, USA etc) are keen on indigenizing the manufacturing of critical components and parts for the wind turbines.
Small scale wind energy business opportunities
- Consultants can benefit by serving the specialized information needs in the wind energy business. Similar opportunities are available for companies and individuals specializing in market studies and market research.
- An individual can take a dealership in distributing home based wind turbines.
- Wind energy is experiencing very large investments from prominent businesses and individuals around the world. Land owners and farmers who own large can profit by leasing/renting their land for setting up wind farms.
Medium scale business opportunities
- Setting up R&D facilities for new type of wind turbine. For instance, currently high altitude wind energy is getting a lot of attention and R&D from entrepreneurs.
- Setting up manufacturing plants for components and accessories for the wind energy industry. With over 8,000 parts required to make a wind turbine, requiring a large network of reliable suppliers, component supply is creating the most problematic bottleneck for turbine makers. In order to meet increasing demand, leading players are rushing to beef up their supplies by setting up new plants, signing long-term contracts with suppliers and even making acquisitions.
- Developing software that can be used in wind turbines - such as monitoring and instrumentation software.
Large scale business opportunities
- Setting up large-scale wind turbine manufacturing plants. The global turbine market will see increasing turbine size in mature markets that require larger rotors, balanced against steady demand in developing countries for smaller, older product models that are well received based on cost and proven performance, according to Emerging Energy Research.
- Setting up large wind turbine power plants. It is expected that larger projects, particularly over 50 MW, will increase their share in the future. Projects 100 MW and larger will nearly double their contribution to global MW added through 2020 from 24% to over 40%.
How sustainable is this industry
Comparing the other renewable energy market, wind energy is a fairly matured and established industry.
The current wind technology is assumed to maintain a high level of activity through to about 2015, after which it starts to be replaced by second generation wind technologies. The current technology has no further installation after 2022. Wind, Generation 2 is undefined as to the exact technology in question, but may consist of vertical axis or Darrieus turbines or other improvements on the current large scale horizontal axis turbines. This technology is forecast to take over from the existing wind technology progressively from 2015, increasing in activity through to about 2025 and reducing to low level of ongoing activity by 2035.
- The cost of wind power is already quite close to that of fossil fuel based power, making wind one of the most economically viable green power sources today.
- Unlike in solar, where the technology risks are relatively higher owing to the overall technology ecosystem and the uncertainties surrounding it, wind power has far fewer uncertainties and this makes investors worldwide more confident while investing in wind.
- Offshore wind power is an exciting phenomenon in this industry. In this case, wind turbines are set up in the ocean where wind speeds are higher and more reliable thus resulting in higher overall efficiencies.
- Many countries do not have enough wind power potential to satisfy all their current electricity requirements. This could change however with technology enabling the wind turbines to produce power at lower wind speeds.
- Unlike solar PV which can be set up on even rooftops, with current wind turbine technology (which predominantly uses what are known as horizontal axis turbines), micro-wind turbines are not efficient. Thus wind power currently requires turbines to be set up in areas far away from the city where the wind speeds are higher. In future, vertical axis wind turbines, which work better at lower speeds, could pave the way for micro-wind turbines.
- As in the case of solar power, storage is a no-no for large-scale wind farms and hence the power production is intermittent and is at the mercy of the wind.
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