The year 2005 proved to be a tumultuous one for global energy, on both sides of the supply/demand equation. Energy resource availability was devastated on several fronts, and not just in the form of hurricanes knocking out more than half of the oil processing capacity in the southern United States. In the oil sector alone, several countries announced that their total oil production had maxed out, and is now in unstoppable decline. In addition to overall country output, individual fields have peaked, such as the Cantarell field in Mexico, which is their largest, the eighth largest in the world, and a major source for the United States. Natural gas is in similar straits, as an estimated 65% of worldwide production is in decline. The year 2006 is not looking any more encouraging, as in February, Kuwait admitted that their reserves are only half of previous claims, and its Burgan field has already peaked. On the other side of the equation, global demand is increasing, largely fueled by the industrialization of China and India. These enormous pressures on supply and demand have naturally led to the highest prices in oil and natural gas ever seen, at the same time that other energy resources are becoming more expensive. For instance, the yellowcake needed for nuclear power doubled in price last year.
With all of these nonrenewable energy sources becoming less available and more expensive, there is growing interest in environmentally responsible alternatives, including wind energy. In 2005, more than $14 billion worth of new wind energy equipment was installed globally, representing a 25% increase versus 2004, according to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC). To those of us stunned by the continued use of fuel inefficient SUVs by lone commuters on our clogged freeways, it was encouraging to hear that the United States installed more new capacity than any other country — over 2400 MW (megawatts), which is enough to power over 680,000 typical U.S. homes every year. Wind energy veterans Germany and Spain took second and third place, respectively. Also encouraging is India appearing in fourth place, and China in sixth. Despite the United States leading the pack in new capacity, it is still a bit behind Spain in total installed capacity, and far behind Germany, whose 18,428 MW is over double America's capacity, of 9149 MW.
Europe in general continues to be the leader, and has already surpassed its 2010 goal of 40,000 MW, five years ahead of schedule. Nonetheless, other countries are beginning to catch up, particularly those that have made concrete and substantial commitments to increasing their use of wind energy. For example, China installed almost 500 MW of new capacity in 2005 (more than double their 2004 amount), largely in response to that country's Renewable Energy Law, which went into effect on 1 January 2006. Australia and Canada both doubled their installed capacity, as did the countries of Africa combined — led by Egypt and Morocco.
Yet while the technology for harnessing the power offered by wind has improved tremendously in the recent past, the adoption and usage of such power is not nearly where it could be. This could largely be due to a lack of support by government and society in general, for alternative energy sources, including wind power. The Chairman of GWEC, Arthouros Zervos, noted that "…the right political framework is crucial to sustain the growth of wind power around the world and to open new markets." This is essential to help counterbalance the huge disadvantage that wind power has when competing with more firmly established energy technologies, which have enjoyed decades if not centuries of infrastructure investment, government support, and consumer payment for services.
Another hurdle, at least within the United States, is the attitude of countless Americans that gas-guzzling "land yachts" are beautiful, that oil fields are eternal, and that wind farms are ugly. Even though such people can apparently ignore the ugliness of smog and smokestacks, it may take a collapse of their petroleum-based suburban lifestyles to really wake them up. Let's hope that more people will see the beauty of wind energy, before the oil and natural gas supplies become prohibitively expensive, and life in the United States gets really ugly.