Lester Brown's Plan B 4.0 is out, with his latest prescription for transforming the global economy in order to protect the environment. Africa Focus has an excerpt of the section on wind power - Turning to the Wind (via The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind, who has made quite an impression in the media lately - see this BBC article and this TED Talk for examples).
Wind is the centerpiece of the Plan B energy economy. It is abundant, low cost, and widely distributed; it scales up easily and can be developed quickly. Oil wells go dry and coal seams run out, but the earth's wind resources cannot be depleted. A worldwide survey of wind energy by the Stanford University team of Cristina Archer and Mark Jacobson concluded that harnessing one fifth of the earth's available wind energy would provide seven times as much electricity as the world currently uses. For example, China with vast wind-swept plains in the north and west, countless mountain ridges, and a long coastline, all rich with wind has enough readily harnessable wind energy to easily double its current electrical generating capacity.
The United States is also richly endowed. In addition to having enough land-based wind energy to satisfy national electricity needs several times over, the National Renewable Energy Lab has identified 1,000 gigawatts (1 gigawatt equals 1,000 megawatts) of wind energy waiting to be tapped off the East Coast and 900 gigawatts off the West Coast. This offshore capacity alone is sufficient to power the U.S. economy. Europe is already tapping its off-shore wind. An assessment by the Garrad Hassan wind energy consulting group concluded that if governments aggressively develop their vast off-shore resources, wind could supply all of Europe's residential electricity by 2020.
For many years, a small handful of countries dominated growth in the industry, but this is changing as the industry goes global, with some 70 countries now harnessing wind resources. World wind electric generation is growing at a frenetic pace. From 2000 to 2008, generating capacity increased from 17,000 megawatts to an estimated 121,000 megawatts. The world leader in total capacity is now the United States, followed by Germany (until recently the leader), Spain, China, and India. But with China's wind generation doubling each year, the U.S. lead may be short-lived.