There are a number of different approaches to generating clean, renewable electricity – wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal and tidal power chief among them – but wind has been the acknowledged leader of the pack lately, thanks to its long history and relative safety and ease of deployment. According to the Renewables 2010 Global Status Report, 2009 marked the second year in which both the United States and Europe added more renewable power capacity than they did conventional power (defined as coal, oil, gas and nuclear power plants). Globally, the world’s nations added 80 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity, of which 38 gigawatts came from wind turbines.
Hydroelectric power was second, at 31 gigawatts, and solar trailed with just 7 gigawatts of new capacity added in 2009. Most of the wind power was built in what are now the world’s two largest economies: the U.S. and China, with 10 gigawatts and 13.8 gigawatts added, respectively. China, which relies heavily on extremely dirty coal plants for its power, is now the world’s largest consumer of energy, and it’s making dramatic efforts to add renewable energy capacity. Alongside utility and offshore wind projects like Massachusetts’ Cape Wind, small wind turbine use has increased dramatically – the U.S. market for small wind turbines grew by 15 percent in 2009, adding about 10,000 units with a total capacity of 20 megawatts. The U.K. added some 4,500 small wind turbines, while China added nearly 50,000, bringing that nation to a total of 400,000 small wind turbines. In both the U.S. and Europe, wind power accounted for 39 percent of all new capacity – more than any other technology.