'One million jobs in wind power' by 2010

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One million people will be employed in the world wind-power industry by the end of the decade, despite the impact of the financial crisis, it was forecast today

Amid predictions that the world would need to install one new turbine every 25 minutes to reach global renewables targets, energy experts at a green summit in Abu Dhabi said the sector had maintained a near 30% annual growth rate in 2008 and was heading for further success.

“It has been another record year for the industry. People say these growth rates can’t go on forever, but they keep on going on,” said Steve Sawyer, secretary general of the Global Wind Energy Council. There had been “dramatic” increases in the US and China, with the former overtaking Germany as the country with the most installed capacity, he told the World Future Energy Summit.

The latest estimates also suggest that Europe has been overtaken as the primary region for wind power.

There were now 400,000 people working in the wind-energy sector worldwide and this would increase enormously in future, Sawyer said. “We would expect it to reach one million by the end of the decade at least.”

According to some projections, the Council said, up to 3 million people could be employed within the industry by 2050.

But this upbeat message came at the same time as a warning from Goldman Sachs that both wind and solar power companies faced financial difficulties caused by the continuing crisis. It pointed out that a lack of available financing for wind and solar projects would reduce or delay demand and affect volumes, pricing and profitability, and revised its ratings and targets on the shares of several European solar companies.

The brokerage said it continued to prefer the wind industry in Europe over the solar industry, given the former sector’s greater level of maturity, its advantages in terms of scalability, and the future economics of electricity generation. “We believe that the most important theme in 2009 within the alternative energy space will be a move from severe undersupply to one of at least a more balanced market and potentially serious oversupply,” said Goldman analyst Jason Channell.

However, Goldman’s pessimism was not shared by Andrew Garrad of leading wind-power consultancy Garrad Hassan, who was at the Abu Dhabi conference. He said it had been “gobsmacking” to see the new schemes being developed in China.

One location he had visited was putting in place up to 5GW of new capacity – the combined wind-generation capacity of France and the UK combined. It was fair to say, he said, that “Europe’s domination of wind is over”.

Garrad said that the wind-power industry had suffered ridicule and animosity but was now becoming respectable, and that there were environmental and security-of-supply reasons for choosing it. “And I think in future it will be the cheapest and cleanest form of electricity supply,” he added.

He believes obtaining grid connections remains key to the future of wind energy in all parts of the world and said politicians should be using the current financial crisis to invest in this area, “instead of protecting old industries.”

Also at the Abu Dhabi summit, Frank Mastiaux, head of climate and renewables at Eon, warned that planning problems continued to blight the industry. Only one in five projects that were put forward to authorities in central Europe ended up being built, he said.

And while Eon had been putting up one new turbine every 10 hours on its own, he warned that the world needed one every 25 minutes if it were to reach the targets set out for it.

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