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U.S. Edges Germany as World’s Largest Wind Power Producer

Thomas Schueneman | Tuesday December 30th, 2008 | 0 Comments

Wind energy development in the United States maintains its record pace, overtaking Germany as the world leader in wind energy generationIn their year-end report, the American Wind Energy Association shows another banner year for wind power in the U.S. For the third year in a row, wind energy development has grown at a record pace, generating over $18 billion in revenue.

Even though Germany has more turbines and greater capacity (22,300 megawatts), the U.S. has stronger winds (perhaps in more ways than one) and overtook Germany this summer as the world leader in actual megawatts of electricity produced from wind generation when the U.S. “blew past” 20,000 MW of installed generating capacity. By the end of the third quarter, the U.S. had more than 21,000 megawatts of electricity in place. Fourth quarter statistics show Germany’s wind development slowing and the U.S. sprinting to the finish line, no doubt spurred on by the better-late-than-never extension of the renewable energy tax credit.

This is the kind of “arms race” that will do the world good.

“With additional projects coming on line every week since (September), the wind industry is on its way to charting another record-shattering year of growth,” AWEA said in its report.

A press release from the AWEA last May reported that wind energy is well on the path of supplying 20% of electrical generation in the U.S. by 2030, supporting over a half million jobs. Subsequent wind development since then bears that out.

Coal train (pun intended)

The current 21,000-plus megawatts of generating capacity is expected to generate some 60 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2009, enough to power more than 5.5 million homes. Moving enough coal at one time to generate that much power would take a coal train 2,000 miles long. Try backing that train into the siding next to the coal-fired power plant. That’s a lot of coal – 30.4 million short tons to be more specific. Another way to look at it, the AWEA report says, is that it is also enough to displace 560 billion cubic feet of natural gas (about 9% of the natural gas used for electricity generation); equivalent to 91 million barrels of oil. It’s the same as taking 140 million cars off the road or saving four trillion gallons of water.

Not to pat ourselves on the back too hard…

While America may lead the world in terms of total wind power generated, there is a ways to go in terms of per-capita energy. Germany is, after all, only a fraction the size of the United States, as are other leading wind energy generating countries. Germany generates 7% of its electricity from wind, the U.S. only 1.2%. Denmark already generates about 20% of its total power generation from wind.

This is not to dampen the achievement, but to put it in perspective. We’ve come a long way in the U.S. in regard to wind and renewable energy development. We’ve got a long way to go. That’s quite a challenge and quite an opportunity.

Other highlights from the AWEA report:

  • Ground-breaking environmental researchThe Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have started a study at the Casselman wind farm in Pennsylvania, the first of its kind in the United States. The wind farm owner and operator, Iberdrola Renewables, is the first in the U.S. to study how changes in its operations during low wind conditions could help avoid bat deaths.

    “We are proud to offer our Casselman site for this important experiment and fully support efforts of the BWEC. We believe this is the responsible thing to do and recognize there is an impact on bats that requires scientific study. We’re committed to hosting this effort, which represents a new area of investigation for the wind industry.” – Andrew Linehan, director of permitting, Iberdrola Renewables

  • 60,000 domestic employees and counting – While the rest of the economy crumbled around it, wind energy remained a bright spot with at least 50 new, expanded or planned wind-related manufacturing facilities across the U.S. This expansion created 9,000 new jobs in 2008 for manufacturing alone (not accounting for the fourth quarter). The $15 billion dollars invested in wind farm construction added thousands more jobs in construction and operation.

    “Interest in continuing to pursue opportunities in Ohio has not diminished as far as [the wind] industry is concerned. I believe that there is a sense that this is one industry that has a bright future and it is full steam ahead.” – Ohio Governor Ted Strickland

  • New collaboration with environmental groups – On November 20th, the creation of the American Wind Wildlife Institute was announced. The AWWI is an alliance between wind energy companies, and science-based conservation and environmental groups to “facilitate timely and responsible development of wind energy while protecting wildlife and wildlife habitat.”

    “Addressing global climate change demands a higher level of collaboration between different sectors and interests. Development of clean, renewable wind energy and wildlife protection need not be mutually exclusive goals. It’s my pleasure to work with industry and non-profit leaders to make this vision a reality.” – Jan Blittersdorf, CEO of NRG Systems and AWWI vice chair

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The full American Wind Energy Association press release

The year ahead for wind energy


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