Blowing in the wind, published in The Daily Telegraph

Published in The Daily Telegraph

The European Union took a dramatic step towards promoting green energy in March this year when it set a binding target of 20 per cent of the continent's energy coming from renewables by 2020. Among the potential sectors to benefit from the move, wind power has a clear advantage. Available, cheap and easy to install, it already provides much of the renewable energy in the UK and across Europe.

"The UK has the best and most geographically diverse wind resources in Europe," according to the Sustainable Development Commission. "Technological advances mean there are no limits to the amount of wind capacity that can be added to an electricity system." Maria McCaffery, chief executive of the British Wind Energy Association, praised the agreement: "This bold step by the EU shows world leadership in this sector, vital for tackling climate change," she said.

The whole tenor of public and governmental perception on wind energy has changed radically in the past few years, according to Peter Kruse of Vestas, the Danish-based manufacturer of wind turbines.

"A few years ago, the Europeans were focused on the Kyoto agreement, the US was not interested in alternative sources of energy and China was just looking for more traditional forms of energy," he says. "Now, for the first time in history, wind energy is working in all the major markets in the world."

Vestas has just signed a massive order for turbines to be shipped to China, where the country's leaders are starting to recognise the need for clean energy, and the need to be in control of its energy supplies. The same applies in Europe, where recent experience of gas supplies from Russia being disrupted has sharpened attitudes to the control of energy sources.

"We have a 'high five' list of issues for wind energy," says Kruse. "It is as competitive as oil and gas on price. It is a predictable price, because it is free. It puts you in charge of your own destiny. The ramp up is very fast, especially compared to the time taken to produce from new oil or gas fields. And it is good for the climate."

Denmark is probably the world's leading nation for wind energy, with at least 20 per cent of its needs provided for this way. Germany and Spain come next, producing between 5 and 10 per cent of their energy needs from wind power. Globally, the figure is less than 1 per cent, showing how much potential there is for the technology to be adopted and make a vast difference. Yet turbines are only one part of the equation, as Kruse explains. "The major obstacle is the electricity grid. The wind is always blowing somewhere, but you need a good grid to link it together."

Kruse estimates that within ten years, the amount of electricity generated by wind will have risen from a current 60,000 megawatts to 300,000 megawatts. "If we could get to 3 per cent of the world's electricity needs in 10 years' time, that would be great," he says.

Kruse believes that in the coming years, China and the US will outpace Europe in adopting wind power. Vestas is already constructing manufacturing sites in both countries, with demand growing strongly. "You can run sophisticated societies on wind," he concludes. "It's now on the agenda everywhere in the world."