The U.S. continues to be a world leader when it comes to installed wind power capacity, ranking second worldwide, despite modest growth in 2013. U.S. installed wind power capacity met nearly 4.5 percent of total national electricity demand last year, and U.S. renewable energy electricity generation is poised to double again by 2020, according to two reports released August 18 by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
Persistence of key policy incentives is pivotal to ongoing growth in wind and renewable energy capacity, however, the DOE noted. With lobbying from Koch Industries’ Americans for Prosperity (AFP), Republican Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas recently came out in favor of phasing out the federal wind energy production tax credit (PTC), which expired Dec. 31. Pushing for renewal of the wind energy PTC, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) recently ran TV and YouTube ads thanking members of Congress in Colorado and Iowa, for their strong, bi-partisan support of wind energy and the PTC renewal.
“As a readily expandable, domestic source of clean, renewable energy, wind power is paving the way to a low-carbon future that protects our air and water while providing affordable, renewable electricity to American families and businesses,” DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz was quoted in a news release. “However, the continued success of the U.S. wind industry highlights the importance of policies like the Production Tax Credit that provide a solid framework for America to lead the world in clean energy innovation while also keeping wind manufacturing and jobs in the U.S.”
2013 U.S. Wind Technologies Market Report
Nearly 61 gigawatts (GW) of wind power capacity had been installed in the U.S. as of year-end 2013, according to the DOE-Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s 2013 Wind Technologies Market Report.
Utility-scale wind turbines are now up and running in 39 U.S. states and territories. That’s generated a lot in the way of green economic and job growth, as well as clean, renewable electrical power that helps avoid the worst effects of a changing climate.
Wind energy prices are at an all-time low, the report authors highlight, particularly in the U.S. interior, where utilities are now able to reduce the costs of new power generation capacity by installing wind turbines and connecting them to the grid.
Furthermore, growth of wind power “has had a ripple effect on the American economy, spurring more than $500 million in exports and supporting jobs related to development, siting, manufacturing, transportation and other industries,” the reports authors said.
Distributed wind power generation
Accounting for more than 80 percent of all wind turbine installations in the U.S. in 2013, distributed wind power applications reached a cumulative 842 megawatts (MW). This is enough to meet the electricity needs of 120,000 average American homes, according to a second report released August 18, the 2013 Distributed Wind Market Report, which was produced by the DOE and its Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
As the DOE explained, “Distributed wind energy installations supply power directly to the local grid near homes, farms, businesses and communities. Turbines can range in size from a few hundred watts to mult-megawatts, and can help power remote, off-grid homes and farms as well as local schools and manufacturing facilities.”
According to the report, some 72,000 wind turbines are up and running across the 50 U.S. states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. More than 10 MW of distributed wind power capacity is now up and running in 14 states – Iowa, Nevada and California among them.
U.S. wind power growth prospects
Prospects for more robust growth this year and in 2015 are better, given that wind energy projects that broke ground prior to the PTC’s expiration in December 2013 will be coming online. Just how robust remains uncertain, however, the DOE noted.
“The PTC has expired, and its renewal remains in question. Continued low natural gas prices, modest electricity demand growth, and limited near-term demand from state renewables portfolio standards (RPS) have also put a damper on industry growth expectations.
“These trends, in combination with increasingly global supply chains, continue to impact domestic manufacturing of wind equipment. What they mean for wind power additions through the end of the decade and beyond will be dictated in part by future natural gas prices, fossil plant retirements, and policy decisions. At the same time, recent declines in wind energy costs and prices and the potential for continued technological advancements have boosted future growth prospects.”
Though the U.S. ranks second among nations in installed wind power, it doesn’t rate nearly as highly in terms of wind power penetration, the DOE points out.
“A number of countries are beginning to achieve high levels of wind penetration: end-of-2013 installed wind power is estimated to supply the equivalent of 34 percent of Denmark’s electricity demand and approximately 20 percent of Spain, Portugal and Ireland’s demand.” That leaves a lot of room for improvement, and more proactive government policies that support faster growth of U.S. wind power deployment.
*Images credit: U.S. Dept. of Energy