On October 21st, the Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates based International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), an intergovernmental organization that supports countries in their transition to a sustainable energy future, in cooperation with the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), released the its first advanced, comprehensive Global Wind Atlas (GWA).

Described as "world’s most detailed wind data resource", the GWA is freely available via IRENA’s Global Atlas platform and provides high resolution wind resource data to anyone around the world and has the goal of accelerating the growth of wind power worldwide. In addition, there is a mobile app that allows users to take the data with them to field sites. 

This new GWA is important for both the wind industry and investors because it will likely help wind energy companies more quickly identify resources to exploit. It is the wind industry equivalent of an application and data set allowing oil companies to discover new deposits. 

"For the first time, information that is so germane to the business case for wind energy is being made available for free online, for all," said Adnan Z Amin, executive director of IRENA. "This brings clarity on the best wind resources in a way not seen before."

The GWA highlights the incredible opportunities in wind energy which, despite its rapid growth in the United States, China, and several European countries in the past decade, is expected to expand exponentially and become a major global energy source.

"One of the problems with deployment is measuring how we do it, and what is the potential in terms of the business case," said Amin, citing the reasons IRENA decided to embark on developing this tool. "The technical difficulties of measuring potential can underestimate true potential and increase perceived risk."

The GWA helps solve one of the biggest challenges facing wind energy – where to build wind farms with the highest electricity generating and profit potential. Though many of the largest United States and global wind companies have detailed data, the GWA expands access to developing countries, and also allows smaller players to use the data to help them make financial decisions.

"One of the most exciting things is that the data reveals [wind] resources that may not have been known. The high resolution mapping bring outs the hills and ridges and, on top of that, favorable sites emerge," said Kenneth Thomsen, innovation manager at DTU. Much of the data in the GWA can be downloaded, allowing businesses to integrate it with their own models and any proprietary data they have gathered. 

Wind energy is one of the fastest growing sources of power in the United States, with the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) estimating that 28 percent of all new electricity generation from 2010-2014 came from wind. They also estimate that 73,000 people work in the wind industry, and over $100 billion has been invested in wind since 2008. Total wind electricity generating capacity as of 2014 was 65,879 MW, concentrated in 12 states, currently at just over 1 percent of the U.S. energy mix. Major players in the industry include Siemens (NYSE: SI), General Electric Energy (NYSE: GE), Vestas (CPH:VWS), and British Petroleum (NYSE:BP).

There is great potential for growth, and a U.S. Energy Department study found that wind energy could generate 20 percent of U.S. electricity by 2030, with global projection from the International Energy Agency (IEA) calling for 35 percent by 2050.

"The atlas is an important tool that can help us get to 30-35 percent wind quickly, and increase the economic benefits associated with a shift away from fossil fuels towards a sustainable energy future," said Steve Sawyer, secretary general of the Global Wind Energy Council.

Businesses can specifically use the GWA to help build their cases for wind energy development, especially, added Sawyer, for smaller companies and specific projects.

"[The GWA] be a useful tool for local entrepreneurs getting into the business for the first time, and will give them a good guide as to where they should be prospecting," said Sawyer. 

Moreover, the GWA can allow American companies to expand abroad and assist clean energy development in emerging economies with large wind potential. The United States, as the second largest wind energy market in the world after China, can play a key role in overseas expansion of wind, and the GWA can assist them in better understanding what countries, regions, and markets are best suited for wind investment. 

IRENA and DTU both hope that the GWA evolves over time in a more robust, powerful and useful tool for both Government and businesses alike.

"What will happen in the next months, we will have more robust analysis," said Christian van Maarschallkelveerd with the Danish Energy Agency. "We want to have a sort of a wind prospector, to translate data into energy equivalence in prospect levels, to provide some guidance in that direction."

Also in the pipeline are more training tools, courses and a partnership with the World Bank to release maps through the world atlas for, initially, 12 countries.


Companies to Watch

General Electric Energy (NYSE: GE) is a major manufacturer of wind turbines for the global market. 39 percent of all wind farms under development in the United States use GE turbines.

Siemens AG (NYSE: SI) is the second largest wind energy generator in the world, with 25,000 megawatts of wind power installed. In September, they received an order from Apex Clean Energy to supply, support installation and provide long-term service for 66 wind turbines in Grant County, Oklahoma.

FPL Group (NYSE: FPL)  Is the parent company of NextEra Energy Resources, and is the largest owner of wind farms in the United States with 7,500 megawatts of installed capacity.

SunEdison (NASDAQ:SUNE) and its yieldco TerraForm Power (NASDAQ:TERP) have been purchasing extensive wind energy portfolios, most recently, the acquisition of 930 MW contracted wind power portfolio from Invenergy for $2 billion.

Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. (NYSE:BRK-B) (NYSE:BRK-A) is one of the largest producers of wind energy in the U.S. through its subsidiary Berkshire Hathaway Energy, which generated $1.9 billion in profits in 2014.


Nithin Coca is a freelance journalist who focuses on energy, environment, and economic issues in developing countries, and has specific expertise in Southeast Asia. Nithin's feature and news pieces have appeared in global media outlets including Al Jazeera, Quartz, Atlantic Cities, SciDev.Net, Southeast Asia Globe, The Diplomat, Penang Monthly and numerous regional publications in Asia and the United States