WINDPOWER 2012 Update: U.S. lags behind China in wind energy technology race

China continues to lead the global clean energy technology manufacturing race, according to a new report commissioned by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and launched at the WINDPOWER 2012 Conference & Exhibition in Atlanta yesterday.

The third edition of WWF’s "Clean Economy, Living Planet" ranks 25 countries based on 2011 sales of the clean energy technology products they manufacture, such as solar panels and wind turbines. It found that in terms of total sales value of clean energy technology, China had the largest market, followed by the United States and Germany. Further, while the U.S. ranks in total sales, it’s well behind leaders such as Denmark, China, Germany and Brazil in sales as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP).

“Other countries are moving on clean technology opportunities and making big investments in the industry, while US policymakers in Washington seems to be content to let all the recent growth in the U.S. wither on the vine by not providing policy certainty and not going after growth opportunities,” said Marty Spitzer, Director of U.S. Climate Policy for WWF. “It’s stable, visionary policy that’s driving the market leaders to the top.”

According to the report:

– U.S. total clean technology manufacturing sales increased 17% from 2010 to 2011, a pace that has slowed from recent years (after averaging 28% from 2008-2010).
– The top five fastest growing markets for 2010-11 were Taiwan (+36%), China (+29%), India (+19%), South Korea (+19%) and the United States (+17%).
– The US has the largest global market share in bioethanol (61%), largely because of strong federal incentives and a renewable fuels standard. In solar PV, US production rose 16%, capturing 16% of the global market.
– The US has a strong market share in wind technology, but is still in fourth place with an 11% market share (a slight increase over last year’s 9%), behind China, Germany and Denmark, who together have more than 60% of the global market. Despite growth of 30% in U.S. demand for wind turbines, wind turbine manufacturing in the United States grew by only 17% in 2011.
– The US is a strong player in the global clean energy technology race, but compared to other leading countries, the US is currently under-investing in clean technology and there is a great deal of policy uncertainty, meaning it will likely lose market share in the long term.

“The view that new industries set sail on their own defies history,” Spitzer said. “The US government has played a strong role in investing in and fostering new industries, from rail and coal to the oil, natural gas and nuclear industries. Clean technology industries are no different. For the near term, our clean energy manufacturing industries like wind power and solar energy need and deserve support to maintain their growth.”

“In the longer run, we need to level the playing field among energy technologies and put in place policies like a Clean Energy Standard or a carbon price to create stable, long-term demand.”

Overall, the report found that in 2011, the global sales value of the clean technology sector increased by 10% to almost €200 billion (approximately $248.8 billion). However in comparison to 2010, the 2011 growth of that sales value is much more unevenly distributed across countries.

While sales from manufacturers in many countries in Asia and the Americas continued to increase, European manufactures have kept their sales stable or have even seen a decline in sales.

By 2015, the clean tech sector is expected to rival the oil and gas equipment market, when the forecasted market size will be between €240 and 290 billion, the report states. Countries that gain a strong position in clean technology manufacturing today have the best prospects to capitalize on the expected strong growth in the future.

“The long-term drivers behind growth in clean technology markets are not going away. Countries winning the clean technology manufacturing race see the growth opportunities and are going after them by building strong domestic markets through comprehensive policies,” said Spitzer.

“We can’t risk Washington taking a nap by the side of the road while more countries breeze by us. There’s too much at stake.”

The Clean Economy, Living Planet report was prepared by Roland Berger Strategy Consultants and commissioned by WWF, with support from Rabobank and De Lage Landen in the U.S.

Tom Gray,