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. (See data.)
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. More