In just a few short decades wind energy has matured dramatically, making wind one of the fastest growing sources of electricity in the world today. Due to technological advancements, policy initiatives, and economic drivers, wind energy is now able to make a cost-competitive contribution to our growing energy needs.
Wind Turbine Technology
Turbines today are sleek and slender machines, a far cry from their wooden ancestors. Around the world, wind turbines of all sizes have become a familiar sight; ranging from home or farm-scale machines of 1 kilowatt (kW), all the way up to arrays of large 5 megawatt (MW) machines for off-shore use.
Modern wind turbines are up to the task of producing serious amounts of electricity. A popular sized machine in the U.S. today is a state-of-the-art 2 MW turbine that stands as tall as a 30-story building and costs roughly $2 million to $5 million installed. With a good wind resource, this size turbine can produce 5 million kWh of electricity each year, or enough energy to run 500 average American households.
Wind Energy Around the Globe
Turbines are sprouting up around the globe in record numbers. By the end of 2010, there were over 197,000 MW of wind installed around the world, which is more than three-times the 59,000 MW installed in 2005. The pace of growth is uneven, because of policy changes and uncertainties. At the end of 2012 China had the most installed capacity, over 75,000 MW, with the US second at 60,000 MW, and Germany third with over 31,000 MW. In terms of the amount of electricity produced by wind, the US was the leader in 2012, with over 120 TWh, China second at over 88 TWh, and Germany third with about 49 TWh. In 2012, because of Congress's inability to make decisions, thereby threatening the continuation of the tax policy that incentivizes wind, developers in the US scrambled to get wind projects up and running by the end of the year. As a result installations in the US were a record 13,000 MW. Forecasters do not foresee this level of activity being approached again for many years.
China's recent boom can be attributed to the passage of a Renewable Energy Standard in 2007 and the introduction in 2009 of requirements for grid owners to buy electricity from renewables, as well as a 20-year feed-in-tariff for wind projects. While nearly half of the world's new installed capacity in 2010 came from China, other countries are also growing their wind resources. (Source: Global Energy Council's Global Wind Report 2010).
Denmark, Germany, and Spain continue to be a leaders in wind power, with India, France, Italy and the UK rising in the market. The recent boom in renewable energy investment, including wind energy generation, is being aided through progressive policies and widespread public support. Legislation such as the UK's Renewables Obligation, the 29 US states and 2 territories with Renewable Portfolio Standards, and the EU's target for 20% renewable energy by 2020 is aiding the development of wind energy across the globe.
Wind Energy in the United States
Total wind capacity in the United States reached 60,007 MW by the end of 2012, with commercial-scale wind turbines operating in 38 states. Wind power accounted for 35% of the country's new power-production capacity from 2007 to 2011, second only to natural gas. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), at the end of 2012 Texas led the country as the state with the most installed wind power with 12,212 MW. California rose to second place in 2012, overcoming Iowa. They had 5,549 and 5,137 MW, respectively. Iowa remains the leading state in wind generation as a portion of total power, with about 25% of its electricity coming from the wind. Minnesota is among the top 10 in production and among the top 5 as a portion of total electricity. By the end of 2012 Minnesota was getting about 17% of its electricity from the wind.
Although this is significant growth for wind energy, it still only accounts for a small percentage of the U.S. electricity supply. The U.S. Department of Energy recently released a report that laid out a plan to reach 20% wind energy power by 2030 to fuel the U.S. electricity grid. This would provide a major increase in jobs, benefits to rural landowners, and lead the country to increased energy independence. Factors pushing for growth in U.S. wind energy include the high cost of fossil fuels and concern over national energy security. As a result, policy makers are actively considering a wide range of legislation that would support and enhance wind energy growth.
Progressive public policy has usually been a key ingredient both for encouraging wind energy expansion and helping to determine what forms that growth will take. Future growth will likely come from commercial-scale wind farms, which are typically vast arrays of turbines owned and operated by large corporations. Yet experience in Minnesota has shown that, with an encouraging policy environment, small clusters of turbines or even single turbines can make significant contirbutions, operated by local landowners, small businesses, and community wind projects.
The Future of Wind Energy
Technological advancements and supportive policy measures have the ability to dramatically increase the future of wind energy development in our nation and our world. Wind power has the unique ability to provide even greater sources of distributed energy production, which means less risk and a stronger energy portfolio. America’s ingenuity and drive for independence are well suited to increased wind energy development in the future. Stay tuned to advancements at industry and policy levels as wind energy continues to grow.