By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent
OSLO, Jan 8 (Reuters) - China will leap to be the top wind turbine producer in 2009, transforming an already fast-growing renewable energy sector, a leading wind power industry official said.
Steve Sawyer, secretary general of the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), said wind could supply 12 percent of world electricity needs by 2020 against just over one percent in 2007 in a shift that would help curb climate change.
"We'd expect that the domestic Chinese manufacturers will have an annual production capacity of about 10 gigawatts per year...by the end of 2009," he told Reuters on Tuesday. GWEC represents more than 1,500 wind firms in more than 50 nations.
Ten gigawatts would be more than half of the current world market -- in 2007, 17-19 gigawatts of wind energy capacity were added worldwide, raising the cumulative total to above 90 gigawatts.
Denmark's Vestas (VWS.CO) is now the biggest wind turbine group. Other major producers include Spain's Gamesa GAM.MC, U.S. company General Electric (GE.N), India's Suzlon (SUZL.BO) and Enercon of Germany.
"The world total will rise well above 100 (gigawatts) in 2008 for sure," Sawyer said.
Wind now provides more power than other renewable energies such as solar or biofuels. Renewables are attracting investments in a shift from fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases linked to rising temperatures, more droughts, floods and rising seas.
China's current annual manufacturing capacity is about four gigawatts, split about equally between domestic and foreign manufacturers, Sawyer estimated.
"For my members now, one of the big issues is to prepare for the onslaught of relatively inexpensive Chinese turbines onto the world market," Sawyer said, adding that no Chinese companies were now exporting.
"The two that have big export plans starting in 2009 and 2010 are Gold Wind, which has really been the market leader (in China) and Sinovel," he said. Other Chinese makers were also expanding fast.
"One of the nice things about wind power is that if you decide to deploy it, it happens very quickly if you have the planning permission," he said. "In China, when the government has given the green light, things happen pretty quickly."
China is set to overtake the United States as the top emitter of greenhouse gases and is trying to curb rising dependence on high-polluting coal.
Sawyer said that installations of wind power consistently outstripped growth forecasts. "We've been projecting that the rate of growth will slow down to below 20 percent for some years now, but 2007 looks like being more than 25 percent," he said.
Of the 2007 totals of 17-19 gigawatts new capacity, about four were installed in the United States, three in China and between eight and 10 in Europe. "It's far and away the fastest growing part of the energy sector," he said.
"We still haven't cracked Latin America," Sawyer said, adding that many countries have "tremendous wind resources".
Sawyer said public perceptions of wind power varied greatly -- in countries ranging from Spain to Mongolia wind turbines were seen as a sign of technological prowess. In countries such as England, however, many saw turbines as eyesores.
"There's no accounting for tastes," he said.
-- For Reuters latest environment blogs click on: blogs.reuters.com/environment/ (Editing by Anthony Barker)