Winds of change

Dale Jackson: Producer at Report on Business Television

Denmark-based Vestas Wind Systems AG the world's biggest wind turbine maker -- reported earlier this month that electricity generation from wind has been growing at an average annual rate of 25 per cent for the past five years.

The gale-force popularity of a limitless, clean and inexpensive form of energy is hardly surprising in a world of forehead-slapping oil prices and stricter emission standards.

Vestas has a 23 per cent share of the turbine market and has installed over 35,000 devices in 63 countries. The stock, which trades in Copenhagen, has increased in value by 62 per cent this year.

Part of that boost comes from a European Union goal to generate 20 per cent of Europe's power from renewable energy sources like wind and solar by 2020. Government's have backed up that target with generous subsidies.

In 2004 wind power overtook hydroelectricity as Germany's top source of renewable energy. According to the Global Wind Energy Council the world market for wind power will grow by 155 per cent by 2012.

Vestas' main competition in Europe is Nordex AG of Germany which has climbed ten per cent in the past year.

Other large companies including General Electric and Siemans AG, along with growing number of small firms have been sinking big dollars into developing wind power and wind power equipment. According to the United Nations Environment Program wind power attracted $50-billion in financing last year.

While wind power is coming on like a hurricane in Europe it's an accelerating breeze in North American. Wind farms have been sprouting up at an increasing rate but at a cost of up to $5-billion each, startups can be costly.

Ironically, rising fuel prices are pushing up costs for developing wind power as an alternative to rising fuel prices.

With the help of tax credits Canada currently has close to 2,000 megawatts of wind power installed enough to supply more than half a million homes. Still, that's less than one per cent of total demand.

At a production cost of less than one cent per kilowatt hour the financial appeal of wind power seems obvious but certain technical obstacles have also hampered its growth. For starters, wind is not reliable and neither is power demand. That makes it difficult to supply power during peak use.

Unlike conventional power sources, wind turbines can not be installed in a short period of time to respond to demand increases.

Canadian energy companies including Suncor Energy Inc. and TransAlta Corp. are dabbling in wind power but there are few publicly traded pure-play wind power companies on the Canadian market.

To address the flexibility problem operators are working on (1) better ways to predict wind patterns and (2) power storage technology, but solutions are still a long way off.

AIM PowerGen Corp., a Toronto-based company owned by U.K. listed Renewable Energy Generation Ltd. has forged partnerships with Ontario farmers to operate wind farms on the north shore of Lake Erie. The electricity generated is sold to the province's power grid and the farmers pocket a few thousand dollars a year.

Here are some wind-related stocks blowing around on the Venture Exchange:

AAER Inc (AAE) is a Quebec-based producer of high capacity wind turbines.

Western Wind Energy Corp. (WND) of Vancouver plans, develops and helps finance wind energy facilities.

Naikun Wind Energy Group Inc. (NKW) is developing an offshore wind project in Northeastern British Columbia in an area known as the Haida Energy Field.

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