The pandemic didn’t deter booming wind power capacity additions last year when global installations surged to record levels, driven by China and the United States.
The phase-out of China’s onshore wind Feed-in-Tariff scheme as of 2021, as well as the anticipated expiration of U.S. federal tax incentives, played a major role in the soaring installations of wind power generation last year.
Analysts had largely expected an increase in wind capacity installations due to the change in policy incentives in major markets. Yet, the volume of additions in China, the United States, and globally exceeded even the most optimistic projections, signaling that the wind power industry shook off the COVID-19 shock in early 2020 and took full advantage of government policies to support renewable energy.
Record Global New Wind Capacity
Wind power developers around the world commissioned a record-setting 96.7 gigawatts (GW) of installations in 2020, up by a massive 59 percent compared to the 60.7 GW installed in 2019, according to the latest data from research company BloombergNEF (BNEF). The rise in new build capacity last year was largely due to soaring installations in China and the United States.
Most of the global wind capacity additions in 2020 were onshore wind, at 93 percent. Onshore wind in China and the U.S. specifically is what pushed up global installations. Offshore wind additions dropped by 13 percent year over year to 6.5 GW in 2020, BNEF data showed.
China alone commissioned 57.8 GW of new wind capacity in 2020, nearly equal to the capacity the entire world had commissioned in 2019, according to BNEF estimates.
“While every region commissioned more wind capacity than the year prior, the unprecedented growth observed in 2020 should be credited to the Chinese wind market,” said Isabelle Edwards, wind associate at BloombergNEF and lead author of BNEF’s 2020 Global Wind Turbine Market Shares report.
China Drives Global Wind Additions
China saw 71.7 GW of total grid-connected capacity in 2020, more than double China’s previous annual growth record, according to figures released by the National Energy Administration (NEA) and analyzed by the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC).
The staggering 71.7 GW figure is the total grid-connected capacity in China last year, not necessarily the year in which wind turbines were installed, GWEC noted. Nevertheless, the Chinese capacity additions and the growth rate went “above and beyond even the most optimistic forecasts,” GWEC said.
“These figures cement China’s position as a juggernaut in the wind industry, and with its offshore wind Feed-in Tariff due to expire by the end of 2021, we are set for another strong gust of growth in the Chinese offshore wind sector this year,” the council said in January 2021.
Strongest Year For U.S. Wind Industry
The United States also had a banner year in wind power installations, with the strongest year ever in 2020 as new wind power capacity soared by 85 percent compared to 2019, the American Clean Power Association said last month.
The industry added 16.9 GW of wind power capacity to the grid in 2020—enough to power more than 5 million American homes, the ACP said, noting that most of the growth came in the fourth quarter when developers commissioned 10.59 GW of capacity, smashing all previous quarterly records. In Q4, project owners commissioned 54 new wind projects across 20 states, including two of the largest single-phase wind projects in U.S. history, in New Mexico and Texas. The Q4 record was primarily due to the anticipated expiration of federal tax incentives, which led many developers to target the end of 2020 for project completion.
“Despite all the challenges COVID-19 placed on our businesses, we still shattered nearly every record for capacity and growth. The fourth quarter was not only the strongest quarter on record, but it also saw more wind installed in just that quarter than in any full year in the modern industry’s 40 plus year history, except 2012,” said ACP chief executive Heather Zichal.
Moreover, projects totaling 34.757 GW were either under construction or in advanced development at the end of December, ACP has estimated.
It was not only wind power that had a banner year in 2020, despite some early supply chain disruptions due to the pandemic. American utility-scale solar and energy storage also set annual capacity addition records last year.
Battery energy storage capacity set its own record last year, with utility-scale storage surging by more than 300 percent from 2019. With the 734 MW of battery storage installed in 2020, there are now 1,756 MW of operating utility battery energy storage capacity in the U.S., the association said.
Energy storage will be crucial for further growth in renewable energy installations, which are set to dominate capacity additions in the United States this year. Solar and wind are set to account for more than two-thirds of the new electricity generation capacity that the United States will install in 2021, the EIA said in January.
Despite pandemic-related construction delays in early 2020 and market uncertainty for most of last year, the major renewable markets in the world, including the U.S. and China, smashed all records for new capacity. Although a large part of the commissioning rush—especially in the last quarter of 2020—was due to phasing-out of government incentives, the wind, solar, and energy storage markets are set for further growth this year and this decade.