U.S. wind takes off

By Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
The U.S. wind energy industry is continuing to pay off for those who have invested in it, both in terms of power generated as well as manufacturing and jobs. This is according to a pair of studies the DOE has made public.

More than 13 GW of wind energy capacity was added onto the U.S. grid last year. That's double what was added the year before. To boot, more of these wind turbines and their parts (towers, nacelles, blades, gearboxes, etc.) are being built in the U.S.

The DOE estimated that 72 percent of the wind turbine equipment used in the U.S. was  manufactured domestically — up from about 25 percent in 2007.

Crucially, the report also reveals that the American wind energy sector now employs some 80,000 people who work at all levels — from building wind turbine blades to installing nacelles or performing needed wind farm maintenance.

Other factoids from the report that I thought were worth noting:
  • Texas added 1,300 MW of new wind capacity last year, beating out California, an early adopter of the technology and home to some of the nation's oldest wind farms
  • The country's cumulative installed wind capacity has jumped 22-fold since the turn of the century
  • There are three states that get more than 20 percent of their power from the winds: Iowa, South Dakota and Kansas
  • The price of a kilowatt hour of wind energy ran about 4 cents from 2011 to 2012
  • There are now 69,000 distributed wind turbines operating in all 50 states
Even though 2012 is the most recent year for which such detailed figures exist, some of this information has trickled out before I wrote this. But the reason I wanted to write about these reports  even though the information in them isn't that new is because I get the feeling that the new reality reflected here hasn't sunk in yet for many. I still hear people talking about how wind energy is a flash in the pan or an unrealistic dream, and at this point I don't know how that still gets repeated.

There was a time to wonder whether wind power could make it as a viable power generation technology. For the U.S., that time has passed. Now the question has become: What is the best way to integrate wind energy onto the power grid without causing too many disturbances due to intermittancy.

If you want to see how wind farms have spread across the U.S. over the years, the DOE has an interactive map at their website. Click here to see it.


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