Wind power’s bright future
What is the latest prognosis for wind energy to command a larger piece of the renewable energy pie?
– Peter M., Akron, Ohio
Photo: Wind power is currently the second-most widely used form of renewable energy, behind hydroelectricity
Hydroelectric sources of power dwarf other forms of renewable energy, but wind power has been a dominant second for years and continues to show “hockey stick” growth moving forward. According to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), global cumulative installed wind capacity – the total amount of wind power available – has grown 50-fold in less than two decades, from just 6,100 megawatts (MW) in 1996 to 318,137 MW in 2013, and the future looks brighter still.
Analysts from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) predict wind will account for the largest share –30 percent – of new renewables added to the global power grid by 2030. That new renewables are expected to account for as much as 70 percent of all new power sources over the next 20 years means wind is poised to become a major player on the global energy scene.
Here in the U.S., energy generated by domestic wind farms has nearly tripled in just the past four years, despite a brief hiccup due to a lapse in the Production Tax Credit – a renewable energy production incentive that effectively subsidizes the creation of more wind farms. Despite this, wind represented about one-third of all new power added to the U.S. grid in the past five years. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a leading environmental nonprofit and wind power advocate, forecasts the U.S. will derive some 20 percent of its total electricity production from wind by 2030.
“The U.S. industry has many reasons for favorable long-term prospects,” reported the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), a nonprofit trade group representing the wind industry. “In addition to the record activity at the end of 2013, wind energy helped keep the lights on and insulate against temporary price spikes during the recent ‘polar vortex’ cold weather snap, demonstrating the value of wind power in a balanced energy portfolio.”
AWEA also pointed out recent reports showing how incorporation of wind energy lowers costs for electric consumers. “And critical to some parts of the country facing continuing drought, wind energy uses no water in its production, as well as releasing no emissions,” added the group.
The fact wind energy in the U.S. avoids some 100 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually is also good news. AWEA added that number will grow as wind energy scales up to 20 percent of the grid and beyond, “making the addition of more wind power one of the fastest, cheapest and largest-scale ways for states to meet the Administration’s new goals for reducing carbon pollution from power plants.”
While wind continues to grow fast, solar may finally be catching up. According to BNEF, some 36.7 gigawatts (GW) of new solar photovoltaic capacity were added worldwide in 2013 compared with 35.5 GW worth of new wind power installations. BNEF added that global demand for wind turbines may actually shrink in 2014 (by five percent), representing the first such decline since 2004.
However, Justin Wu, head of wind analysis for BNEF, said it is just a temporary blip: “Falling technology costs, new markets and the growth of the offshore industry will ensure wind remains a leading renewable energy technology.”
For more information please visit BNEF (about.bnef.com), NRDC (nrdc.org) and AWEA (awea.org).
EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E – The Environmental Magazine. For more information, please visit emagazine.com.