By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Installed EU wind capacity has reached the 100 gigawatt mark - the equivalent of power generated from 39 nuclear plants or a train of coal stretching from Buenos Aires to Brussels - but financial risk threatens growth, industry body EWEA said.
"We have just in the past couple of weeks passed 100 gigawatts of total installed capacity in Europe," Christian Kjaer, CEO of the European Wind Energy Association, told a small group of reporters.
"We have been adding about 10 gigawatts per year for a couple of years and it will be around the same this year," he added. "Whether that will continue in 2013, I can't say. There's too much political uncertainty."
The capital-intensive industry faces a challenge after banks shortened the maturity of loans and increased costs for lenders, meaning wind power has not benefited from low interest rates, Kjaer said.
It is seeking long-term investors, including pension funds and insurers to make up the shortfall.
At the same time, the EU economic crisis means austerity measures have led to abrupt changes in government policies on funding for renewable energy, increasing political risk across the bloc.
The growth in wind power this year has included 400 megawatts (MW) developed by DONG Energy, off the coast of Denmark, and 48 MW developed by EDF Energies Nouvelles Polska in Poland, EWEA said.
Most of the overall 100 gigawatts so far are onshore wind.
The emerging, huge-scale offshore sector has the potential to deliver the next 100 gigawatts much faster, if it can overcome its much bigger financing and grid issues.
Industry cost estimates for installing offshore are 3-4 million euros per megawatt, compared with around 1.2-1.4 million euros for onshore.
To help spur future investment, EWEA wants the European Commission and member states to agree on a policy beyond the existing target of a 20 percent share of energy from renewable sources by 2020. It also wants to ensure major investment in the European grid, as part of a single energy market, in which supplies can easily cross national borders.
"The biggest potential show stopper for us is we need better infrastructure," Kjaer said.
The Commission has said it wants the single energy market across the European Union to be completed by 2014, but it has also said it is not on track to meet that deadline.
It is expected to publish a document in the coming weeks that will lay out strategies to accelerate progress and that discussions on the multi-annual EU budget include debate on earmarking funds for grid infrastructure that benefit more than one nation.
UK OFFSHORE GROWTH
The nascent offshore wind sector has seen huge growth in Britain, where attractive government subsidies have driven investments in a technology the state expects could grow six times larger by 2020 than its current installed capacity.
Norwegian players Statoil and Statkraft on Thursday opened their 317-MW Sheringham Shoal offshore wind farm off the coast of North Norfolk, extending Britain's lead in installed offshore wind capacity, the total of which is now at 2,670 MW.
Earlier this month, Sweden's Vattenfall opened its 150-MW Ormonde offshore wind farm and a joint venture between SSE and RWE npower started producing first power at its 500-MW Greater Gabbard project.
Britain's total installed offshore wind capacity now represents 60 percent of the EU's capacity and is more than three times greater than that of the region's second-largest market in Denmark, said RenewableUK, Britain's green energy association.
(Additional reporting by Karolin Schaps in London; editing by James Jukwey)