Winds of Change: The Environmental Movement and the Global Development of the Wind Energy Industry

Winds of Change: The Environmental Movement and the Global Development of the Wind Energy Industry

Winds of Change: The Environmental Movement and the Global Development of the Wind Energy Industry

Winds of Change: The Environmental Movement and the Global Development of the Wind Energy Industry


In recent decades the global wind energy industry has undergone explosive growth, and there is still vast potential for wind to supply more of the world's energy. Though not only is wind power far from reaching its potential, its rise has been uneven and irregular. What factors influence the development of the wind energy industry, and why has it developed successfully in some places but not in others? In Winds of Change, Ion Bogdan Vasi argues that the development of wind energy is dependent not only on improvements in technology and economic forces, but also in large part on the efforts of the environmental movement. Vasi defines and analyses three pathways through which the environmental movement has contributed to industry growth: it has influenced the adoption and implementation of renewable energy policies, created consumer demand for clean energy, and changed the institutional logics of the energy sector. Vasi uses quantitative analysis to present the big picture of global wind power development, and qualitative research to understand why certain countries are world leaders in wind energy while others are relatively underdeveloped. Through interviews with renewable energy professionals and campaigners, he shows that environmental groups and activists participated actively in energy policymaking, pressured various organizations to purchase wind power, and formed new companies that specialized in wind-farm development. He also demonstrates that environmentalists contributed to wind turbine manufacturing by becoming entrepreneurs, innovators, and advocates. Winds of Change sheds much new light on how wind energy is adopted and why, and demonstrates how activists and social movements can contribute to the creation of new industries.


Wind energy conversion is a fascinating field to study, if only because its
past has been so checkered and its exact future is so uncertain. Unlike the
aerospace industry, the computer industry, and almost any other success
ful industry you can name, wind energy … has been around for thou
sands of years. It’s a technology that has been reinvented numerous
times. We are left with the promise and the drive to succeed despite
daunting obstacles.
—Darrell Dodge, “An Illustrated History of Wind Power Development,” (accessed April 2007)

The Puzzling Development of the
Wind Energy Industry

The answer to future problems of energy supply seemed to be blowing in the wind in 1980. The global generating capacity of wind power was only 10 megawatts (MW)—enough electricity to power approximately three thousand “average” U.S. homes, but many policymakers and energy analysts were optimistic about the future of the wind energy industry. That year the U.S. House of Representatives had voted “to harness the wind and put it to work for a brighter America” by passing the Wind Energy Systems Act, a bill that aimed to reach a total capacity from wind energy systems of at least 800 MW by 1988. In the same year, analysts from the U.S. Department of Energy were estimating that the United States would likely get 20 percent of its electricity from wind by the year 2000.

Indeed, as new materials and technologies became available, a new era of wind energy began in the 1980s. By 1985, the United States had an installed capacity of more than 1 gigawatt (GW) from wind energy, far exceeding the goal of 800 MW by 1988, as set forth in the Wind Energy Systems Act. Five years . . .

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