How much of the world's electricity supply is generated from wind and who are the leading generators?

Worldwide wind power generation exceeded 250 billion kilowatthours in 2009, which is equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of over 22 million average households in the United States. Wind generation increased by about 20% from 2008 to 2009, and has more than tripled since 2004. This growth is mostly due to capacity increases in the United States, China, India, and Western Europe. Despite this growth, the world still generated only 1% of its total electricity from wind power in 2009.

Line chart showing the increase in wind electricity generation by region from 1980-2009. Source: Energy Information Administration, International Energy Statistics
Pie chart showing the contribution to global wind generation in 2008. United States 25.1%; Germany 18.5%; Spain 14.5%; India 7.2%, China 6.2%, United Kingdom 3.3%; Denmark 3.2%; Italy 3.0%; France 2.6%; Portugal 2.6% and Rest of World 13.9%. Source: Energy Information Administration, International Energy Statistics

Did You Know?

A feed-in tariff is a financial incentive that encourages the adoption of renewable electricity. Under a feed-in tariff, government legislation requires electric utilities to purchase renewable electricity at a higher price than the wholesale price. This incentive allows the renewable generator to achieve a positive return on its investment despite the higher costs associated with these resources.

Bar graph showing the share of total electricity generation from wind in 2008. United States 1.3%; Germany 6.5%; Ireland 8.6%; Spain 10.4%; Portugal 12.6% and Denmark 19.2%. Source: Energy Information Administration, International Energy Statistics

The United States Generated the Most Wind Electricity in 2009

Maintaining its position for two years in a row, the United States led all other countries in wind power generation in 2009. The remaining top-ten wind power generators, listed in descending order, were Germany, Spain, China, India, the United Kingdom, France, Portugal, Denmark, and Italy. Although about 35 countries reported significant wind power generation in 2009, these top-ten countries accounted for more than 85% of all wind generation worldwide. Wind generation in China continues to grow rapidly. Wind generation growth in the country increased by an average of 80% each year since 2004 and doubled from 2008 to 2009.

Denmark Generates the Highest Percentage of its Electricity Supply from Wind

Nearly 20% of Denmark's electricity generation came from wind in 2009. The next highest levels of wind penetration are found in Portugal at 16%, Spain at 13%, Ireland at 11%, and Germany at 7%. No other country surpassed 5% penetration, including the United States, which generated almost 2% of its electricity from wind in 2009.

Less than 2% of Global Wind Capacity is Offshore

According to the World and European Wind Energy Associations, installed global wind capacity reached 197,000 megawatts by the end of 2010, with just over 3,000 MW of that total located offshore. Even though offshore development lags behind onshore, generally due to higher costs and technology constraints, over 1,000 MW were built in 2010. Western Europe is home to nearly all existing offshore capacity; Japan and China have started to add offshore wind farms of their own. As of June 2011, there were no operating offshore wind farms in the United States, although the Department of the Interior approved construction plans for the 420-megawatt Cape Wind project off the Massachusetts coast in April 2011.

Wind Power Generation is Expected to Continue Growing

Over the lifetime of the plant, electricity from wind power generally costs more than electricity from power plants burning fossil fuels.1 However, wind power is expected to continue to grow worldwide because of favorable government policies. Multiple types of government support exist, including a production tax credit and State renewable electricity portfolio standards in the United States, a feed-in tariff (see the "Did You Know" box on the left) in Germany, and wind capacity targets in China.

  1. Although wind farms have relatively low operating costs, capital investment costs are significant. In addition, the intermittent nature of wind results in relatively low capacity factors, such that a wind plant will generate less electricity than a conventional thermal or hydroelectric plant of the same size and over the same period of time. As a result of the high capital costs and intermittency associated with wind, the "levelized cost of electricity" (LCOE) — or the sum of the plant's present value of capital and operating costs, divided by its generation over the plant's lifetime — tends to be higher for wind than for most conventional generation types.