Wind energy developers installed a record 41,000 megawatts of electricity-generating capacity in 2011, bringing the world total to 238,000 megawatts. With more than 80 countries now harnessing the wind, there is enough installed wind power capacity worldwide to meet the residential electricity needs of 380 million people at the European level of consumption.
China led all countries in annual wind power gains for the third straight year, installing a jaw-dropping 18,000 megawatts for a total wind capacity of 63,000 megawatts. This country’s rise to the top of the world rankings has been swift: after doubling its wind capacity each year from 2005 to 2009, China surpassed the United States in 2010.
China’s ambitious Wind Base program will help ensure a widening lead for some years to come. Across the wind-rich northern provinces, wind mega-complexes of between 10,000 and 38,000 megawatts each are now under construction. By 2020, these “wind bases” will approach 140,000 megawatts of total installed capacity — more than the entire world had at the close of 2008.
As impressive as China’s achievements have been thus far, such rapid growth in capacity has created significant challenges. Badly needed electric grid and transmission upgrades in remote areas lag well behind wind farm completions, meaning that many turbines stand idle. This, combined with growing concerns over the safety and performance of hastily built wind farms, has led regulators to cap the allowed new wind capacity at 15,000–20,000 megawatts per year and to make improved project quality and grid access a priority.
For more data see earth-policy.org.
Now trailing well behind China, the United States installed 6,800 megawatts of wind generating capacity in 2011. The U.S. wind fleet now totals nearly 47,000 megawatts across 38 states, enough to meet the electricity demand of more than 10 million homes. Another 10,000 megawatts could be on the way in 2012. The outlook for 2013 is not as upbeat, however. If an important tax credit expires at the end of 2012, as scheduled, the industry fears a precipitous drop in new wind capacity. This would put thousands of jobs at risk in what has been a welcome success story in U.S. manufacturing.
Texas, now with 10,400 megawatts installed, has been atop the U.S. wind leaderboard since 2006. Next in line is Iowa, with 4,300 megawatts. In share of electricity generated from wind, Iowa and South Dakota lead at 20 percent each. Texas, home to 25 million people, gets 8 percent of its electricity from wind farms.
As in China, some of the best U.S. wind resources are located in remote areas and require new or upgraded transmission lines to move electricity to population centers. Many long-distance high-voltage transmission projects are under development across the United States to help address this, including four projects proposed by Clean Line Energy Partners in the Midwest, South, and West that would transport more than 17,000 megawatts of renewably generated electricity. Clean Line’s “Grain Belt Express,” for example, would allow wind-rich Kansas to export renewable electricity eastward to Missouri, Illinois, and beyond.
With close to 100,000 megawatts of wind capacity, Europe leads all regions of the world. The 9,600 megawatts of wind installed in the European Union (EU) in 2011 accounted for more than 20 percent of the bloc’s new electricity generating capacity. (Solar power provided most of the rest.) Since 2000, the EU has added a net 84,000 megawatts of wind while reducing coal and nuclear power capacity by a net 10,000 and 14,000 megawatts, respectively.
Denmark gets over a quarter of its electricity from wind, more than any other country. The government has pledged to reach 50 percent by 2020. Spain — ranking fourth in the world behind Germany in total wind capacity — gets more than 10 percent of its electricity from wind, as do Portugal and Ireland. In Germany, where wind covers 8 percent of national electricity use, four northern states each boast impressive wind power shares of more than 40 percent.
Less-mature wind markets in the EU are beginning to gain momentum. Belgium just surpassed 1,000 megawatts installed and is expected to double that capacity by the end of 2012. And Romania, which grew from only 14 megawatts in 2009 to 980 megawatts in 2011, could add another 850 megawatts in 2012.
India, whose Suzlon has become one of the world’s leading wind turbine manufacturers, installed 3,000 megawatts of wind in 2011. It remains fifth in the world wind rankings, with 16,100 megawatts total, a figure the government hopes to double within five years. Eighteen of India’s 28 states encourage wind energy development through feed-in tariffs. Widely used in Europe, these policy mechanisms require utilities to pay a premium for electricity generated with renewable energy.
Neighboring Pakistan, which just introduced a national feed-in tariff, looks to add over 1,500 megawatts to its existing 6 megawatts by 2013. Much of this expansion is slated for Sindh province, home to the country’s largest city, Karachi. Overall, Pakistan’s wind capacity potential comes in at 350,000 megawatts — enough to meet its electricity needs 10 times over.
Countries in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East are also taking advantage of their wind resources. Brazil, which leads the way in the rapidly expanding Latin American market, reached 1,500 megawatts of total wind capacity in 2011, a 63 percent increase over 2010. Wind projects representing another 7,000 megawatts already have customers contracted to purchase their electricity once they go online. In sub-Saharan Africa, the long-awaited 300-megawatt Lake Turkana wind farm is set to break ground in northwestern Kenya in April 2012. Ethiopia brought its first wind farm online in 2011, and both Nigeria and Mauritania are poised to do the same in early 2012. And in the Middle East, Turkey has grown from 20 megawatts of wind in 2005 to 1,800 megawatts in 2011, and it has five times that amount in the pipeline.
The vast majority of wind turbines operating today are on land, but offshore wind development is ramping up. Now totaling more than 4,000 megawatts, almost all of it in Europe, offshore wind generating capacity has grown fivefold since 2006. More than half of the total belongs to the United Kingdom, whose 380-megawatt Greater Gabbard offshore park is already the world’s largest. It will exceed 500 megawatts when complete. The European Wind Energy Association expects the region’s offshore generating capacity to reach 150,000 megawatts by 2030 — covering 14 percent of projected EU electricity demand.
The only operational offshore wind farms outside Europe are in Asia. China has installed more than 200 megawatts offshore since 2010, and Japan has built 25 megawatts since 2004. Ambitious near-term goals, if realized, will sharply accelerate offshore expansion: China aims for 5,000 megawatts by 2015 and South Korea plans to have 2,500 megawatts by 2019.
A frequent argument against renewable sources of electricity is that they are much too expensive to compete with nuclear or fossil fuel power plants. In the most suitable locations on land, however, wind is already often cost-competitive. Analysts at Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimate that as wind costs continue to fall, even the average wind farm will be competitive by 2016.
Global wind power capacity is projected to at least double between 2011 and 2016, as mature players build on a sizable base and as more countries enter the market. The race is on to shift from finite and costly fossil fuels to renewables swiftly enough to avoid the disastrous consequences of runaway climate change. With its long list of attractive attributes — widespread and abundant, quick to scale, climate-benign, and zero fuel cost — wind power is driving the transition to a new energy economy.
By J. Matthew Roney – Data and additional resources can be found at earth-policy.org.
The global average temperature in 2011 was 14.52 degrees Celsius (58.14 degrees Fahrenheit). According to NASA scientists, this was the ninth warmest year in 132 years of recordkeeping, despite the cooling influence of the La Niña atmospheric and oceanic circulation pattern and relatively low solar irradiance. Since the 1970s, each subsequent decade has gotten hotter — and 9 of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred in the twenty-first century.
Each year’s average temperature is determined by a number of factors, including solar activity and the status of the El Niño/La Niña phenomenon. But heat-trapping gases that have accumulated in the atmosphere, largely from the burning of fossil fuels, have become a dominant force, pushing the Earth’s climate out of its normal range. The planet is now close to 0.8 degrees Celsius warmer than it was a century ago. Hidden within annual averages and expected variability are startling instances of new temperature and rainfall records in many parts of the world — weather extremes that would once be considered anomalies but that now risk becoming the new norm as the Earth heats up.
Worldwide, 2011 was the second wettest year on record over land. (The record was set in 2010, which also tied 2005 as the warmest overall.) Heavier deluges are expected on a warmer planet; each temperature rise of 1 degree Celsius increases the amount of moisture the atmosphere can hold by about 7 percent. Higher temperatures also can fuel stronger storms.
Brazil started the year with the deadliest natural disaster in its history: in January, a month’s worth of rain fell in a single day in Rio de Janeiro state, leading to floods and landslides that killed at least 900 people. That same month, flooding in eastern Australia covered an area nearly the size of France and Germany combined. Overall, it was the third wettest year in Australia since recordkeeping began in 1900.
The most expensive weather disaster of 2011 was the flooding in Thailand in the second half of the year, which ultimately submerged one third of the country’s provinces. At $ 45 billion worth of damage — equal to 14 percent of Thailand’s gross domestic product — it was also the costliest natural catastrophe the country ever experienced.
In October, more than 100 people died as two storms — one from the Pacific and the other from the Caribbean — pounded Central America with rain. In western El Salvador, nearly 1.5 meters of rain (almost 5 feet) fell over 10 days. And in December, Tropical Storm Washi hit the Philippines, creating flash floods that killed more than 1,200 people.
The 2011 Atlantic hurricane season had 19 named storms. Hurricane Irene brought extreme flooding to the northeastern United States in August, with total damages topping $ 7.3 billion. The year was the wettest on the books for seven states in the country, while it was among the driest for several others. Although the extremes appear to balance out, making for a near-average year, in fact a record 58 percent of the contiguous United States was either extremely wet or extremely dry in 2011.
Indeed, as is expected on a hotter planet, while some parts of the globe were overwhelmed by rain in 2011, others were distinguished by dryness. A severe drought in the Horn of Africa that began in 2010 devolved into a crisis situation in 2011, characterized by crop failure, exorbitant food prices, and widespread malnutrition. Exacerbated by chronic political instability and a belated humanitarian response, the death toll may have exceeded 50,000 people.
Back in North America, a drought that began in late 2010 and worsened over 2011 led hundreds of farmers from northern Mexico to march to that nation’s capital in January 2012 to draw the government’s attention to their suffering. Nearly 900,000 hectares of farmland (some 2.2 million acres) and 1.7 million head of livestock were lost due to the dryness — the worst in Mexico’s 70+ years of data collecting.
Scorching heat, drought, and wildfires across the U.S. Southern Plains and Southwest caused farm, ranch, and forestry damages that exceeded $ 10 billion in 2011. Wichita Falls, Texas, experienced 100 days over 100 degrees Fahrenheit — far more than the previous record of 79 days set in 1980. Oklahoma and Texas had the hottest summers of any states in history, breaking by a wide margin the record set in 1934 during the Dust Bowl. James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, writes that the likelihood of such extreme heat waves “was negligible prior to the recent rapid global warming.” Texas also had its lowest rainfall on record. Invigorated by the heat and drought, wildfires burned across an estimated 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres) in the state.
For the continental United States, summer 2011 was the second warmest in history. Nearly three times more weather stations hit record highs than lows in 2011, in line with a trend of increasing heat extremes. Whereas in the middle of the 20th century there were close to the same number of record highs and lows — as would be expected absent a strong warming trend — in the 1990s highs began outpacing lows. In the first decade of this century, there were twice as many record highs as record lows.
Worldwide, seven countries set all-time temperature highs in 2011: Armenia, China, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Republic of the Congo, and Zambia. Interestingly, Zambia also was the only country to experience an all-time low temperature when it dropped to -9 degrees Celsius (16 degrees Fahrenheit) in June. Kuwait experienced the year’s highest temperature, with thermometers measuring a searing 53.3 degrees Celsius (127.9 degrees Fahrenheit), the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth during the month of August. Even more threatening to health than daytime highs are extra hot nighttime minimum temperatures, which do not allow any respite from the heat. The world’s hottest 24-hour minimum ever — 41.7 degrees Celsius (107 degrees Fahrenheit) — was recorded in Oman in June 2011.
Even the Arctic had a notably warm year, with the 2011 temperature a record 2.2 degrees Celsius (4 degrees Fahrenheit) above the mean for 1951–80. Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost U.S. city, spent a record-breaking 86 consecutive days at or above freezing, far more than the previous record of 68 days set in 2009.
In fact, over the last 50 years temperatures in the Arctic have risen more than twice as fast as the global average, melting ice and thawing permafrost. Arctic sea ice has been shrinking more rapidly, falling to its lowest volume and second lowest area on record during the 2011 summer melt season. With the summertime ice loss outpacing wintertime recovery, Arctic sea ice has thinned, making it increasingly vulnerable to further melting. Scientists expect a completely ice-free summertime Arctic by 2030 or even earlier.
As the reflective ice disappears, it exposes the dark ocean, which more readily absorbs solar energy, further warming the region. This sets forth a climate cascade, accelerating ice loss both in the ocean as well as on nearby Greenland, which contains enough ice to raise global sea level by 7 meters (23 feet) if it completely melted. The warming also thaws Arctic permafrost, releasing carbon dioxide and methane, further accelerating global warming.
Even without fully incorporating such climate feedback, models show that continued reliance on fossil fuels could raise the global temperature by up to 7 degrees Celsius (over 12 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of this century. Such an elevated temperature would amplify temperature and precipitation extremes enough to make the weather events of recent years look tame in comparison. Only a rapid, dramatic reduction of greenhouse gas emissions can hold future temperatures in a range bearing any resemblance to what civilization has known.
By Janet Larsen and Sara Rasmussen
The global economy grew 3.8 percent in 2011, a drop from 5.2 percent in 2010. Economists had anticipated a slowdown, but this was even less growth than expected, thanks to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, unrest in oil-producing countries, the debt crisis in Europe, and a stagnating recovery in the United States. As richer economies struggle to recover from the financial crisis of 2008–09, poorer countries are facing high food prices and rising youth unemployment. Meanwhile, growing income inequality and environmental disruption are challenging conventional notions of economic health.
The total value of goods and services produced worldwide in 2011 was $ 77.2 trillion, twice as much as 20 years ago. The global economy expanded by an average of 4 percent each year in the decade leading up to the 2008 slowdown and the 2009 contraction. Industrial economies typically grew by about 3 percent annually in the 10 years before the recession but only 1.6 percent in 2011. Developing economies, which grew by an average of roughly 6 percent annually in the decade before the recession, grew by 6.2 percent last year.
Developing Asia was responsible for 25 percent of global economic output in 2011. China’s economy, the world’s second largest, grew 9.2 percent in 2011, producing $ 11.1 trillion in goods and services. Yet this was a much slower expansion than its pre-recession rate of 14 percent in 2007. India, whose gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 7.4 percent to $ 4.4 trillion in 2011, surpassed Japan to become the world’s third largest economy. (See data at www.earth-policy.org.)
The 2011 growth in developing Asian economies was dampened somewhat by the disaster in Japan, which disrupted global supply chains in automotives, electronics, and other sectors. Japan’s economy also took a hit, contracting by 0.9 percent to $ 4.3 trillion in 2011.
Many industrial countries are still struggling to recover from the Great Recession. Economic output in several of them, notably the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia, was some 10 percent lower in 2011 than it would have been without the crisis, according to International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates. The 2011 slowdown in industrial countries also decreased the flow of wealth to developing economies.
An intricate web of borrowing among European Union members set the stage for a debt crisis, which made global financial markets more volatile in 2011. A few countries, notably Greece, have racked up debts they are unable to repay. Lending countries, especially Germany — the world’s fifth largest economy, with a GDP of $ 3.0 trillion in 2011 — have been reluctant to bail them out. Europe’s troubles continued into 2012 when credit rating agencies downgraded 10 countries, including France, Italy, and Spain, in January and February.
The United States remained the world’s largest economy in 2011 with a GDP of $ 14.8 trillion, but economic activity was weaker than expected as government stimulus spending was insufficient to boost private demand. The United States is one of a few rich countries where unemployment rates were still higher in 2011 than before the recession, and families’ income expectations were extremely low. Standard & Poor’s fueled concerns about U.S. fiscal health when it downgraded the country’s debt rating in August, and uncertainty about how policymakers would address these challenges strained global financial markets. Slow growth in the largest economic power dragged down the global economy as a whole.
While not hit as hard by the Great Recession, developing countries faced challenges in 2011 from youth unemployment — which has been on the rise globally in recent years — and high food prices. Bad weather, low grain stocks, and high oil prices helped raise the cost of food, a particular burden on poor families who spend a large share of their incomes on it. High food prices can contribute to global food insecurity and poverty; the World Bank estimates that high food prices in late 2010 pushed an extra 44 million people into extreme poverty. These factors likely helped trigger the revolutions that swept across the Middle East and North Africa. That unrest contributed to high oil prices, which slowed consumption in industrial economies. Oil prices spiked to $ 120 a barrel in April, but had declined to around $ 100 by August.
Qatar, where more than half of the nation’s income comes from oil and natural gas, has the world’s highest average income: almost $ 103,000 per person. The United States and China have average incomes (as measured in GDP per person) of $ 48,000 and $ 8,000 per person, respectively. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, a failing state plagued by government corruption and violent conflict, has the world’s lowest average income, at less than $ 350 per person. Thus the world’s highest national average income is now almost 300 times the lowest.
In December 2011, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reported that the gap between the rich and the poor has widened in many industrial countries in recent decades. For example, in the United States between 1984 and 2008 (the latest year for which data are available), incomes among the richest 10 percent of households grew almost 4 times faster than incomes of the poorest tenth. China has also grown more unequal in recent years despite booming economic growth. Remarkably, Brazil has reduced inequality and poverty simultaneously over the past decade as it raised incomes among both the rich and the poor.
When income distribution is very unequal, social mobility is limited and economic growth contributes less to reducing poverty. High income inequality also threatens political stability and endangers the economy as a whole. A 2011 article published in the IMF magazine Finance & Development found that increased income equality is even more important for sustaining economic growth than openness to trade, democratic governance, foreign investment, competitive exchange rates, or external debt.
Our current economic system requires continued growth to keep governments and families afloat, but the natural systems that support our economy cannot sustain endless consumption. GDP tallies economic output but does not reflect environmental limits, sustainable yields, or how today’s environmental damage undermines future prosperity. And it fails to distinguish economic growth that alleviates poverty and strengthens society from that which pollutes the environment, endangers health, or disproportionately enriches large corporations and the very wealthy.
Several indices offer more nuanced measurements of well-being. For instance, in 2011 Norway topped the U.N. Development Programme’s Human Development Index, which incorporates life expectancy, years of schooling, and average income. The United States ranked fourth and China came in at number 101 out of 187 countries. The United States performs less favorably on indices that deduct for negative environmental impact.
The Global Footprint Network (GFN) calculates humanity’s Ecological Footprint, comparing the consumption of resources to the earth’s ability to replenish them. If the earth’s natural systems are like an endowment, then its annual regenerative capacity is like interest earned — the amount that can be spent each year without depleting the principal. GFN found that by 2007, humanity’s ecological footprint exceeded the earth’s yearly “interest” by 50 percent. Together, the United States and China consume almost half of what nature can sustainably provide.
In our current growth-based economic system, rising affluence and population growth mean increased consumption, environmental destruction, and waste production. This western model of development is failing: if everyone on earth shared the lifestyle of the average American, we would need more than 4.5 planets to sustain us, according to GFN. Without a more comprehensive vision of economic health and better ways to measure it, we are flying blind on a path to economic decline and collapse.
Eco-Economy Indicators are twelve trends that the Earth Policy Institute tracks to measure progress in building a sustainable economy. Given the way the world now does business, economic growth is a measure of the mounting pressure on the environment. By Brigid Fitzgerald Reading.
by Lisa Hymas.
year, we had the death
of the climate bill in Congress, the rollout
of electric cars to the American masses, and, of course, the BP
gusher in the Gulf. And this year? Tell us what you think have been the big
stories of 2011—propelling us toward a greener future, getting in the way, or just
reminding us that we need to get our asses moving.
in with comments below, and then watch for our official list coming soon.