Money doesn’t grow on trees, but it might ride in on the wind

WASHINGTON — Wind power is capable of becoming a major contributor to America’s electricity supply over the next three decades, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The report looks closely at the possibility of reaching 20 percent wind energy by 2030 and contrasts it to a scenario of no new U.S. wind power capacity.

To reduce greenhouse gas and enhance the country’s energy security, clean power generation at the gigawatt-scale will be necessary, according to Andy Karsner, U.S. Department of Energy assistant secretary of energy efficiency and renewable energy.

This kind of generation will require the U.S. to take a comprehensive approach to scaling renewable wind power, he added.

What it takes

Included in the report are an examination of America’s technological and manufacturing capabilities, the future costs of energy sources, U.S. wind energy resources and the environmental and economic impacts of wind development.

Under the 20 percent wind scenario, installations of new wind power capacity would increase to more than 16,000 megawatts per year by 2018 and continue at that rate through 2030.

The report identifies the central constraints to achieving the 20 percent goal: transmission, siting, manufacturing and technology. It also demonstrates how each can be overcome.

Benefits

The report finds that achieving a 20 percent wind contribution to U.S. electricity supply would:

  • Reduce carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation by 25 percent in 2030.
  • Reduce natural gas use by 11 percent
  • Reduce water consumption associated with electricity generation by 4 trillion gallons by 2030
  • Increase annual revenues to local communities to more than $1.5 billion by 2030
  • Support roughly 500,000 jobs in the U.S., with an average of more than 150,000 workers directly employed by the wind industry.
  • Cost effective

    At 20 percent of electric power generation, significant growth in the manufacturing supply chain would create jobs and remedy the current shortage in parts for wind turbines.

    Reducing the use of natural gas could save money for consumers due to the resulting downward pressure on the price of natural gas.

    “We must look at meeting future electric demands in a cost-effective way,” said Suedeen Kelly, commissioner for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. “The 20 percent wind scenario would only cost 2 percent more than the cost of the baseline scenario without wind.”

    At 50 cents per month for the average ratepayer, that is a small price to pay for the climate, water, natural gas, and energy security benefits it would buy — and it does not even count the stability provided to consumers by eliminating fuel price risk, Kelly added.

    Though economic and other factors will ultimately determine the energy future, experts believe the 20 percent wind scenario is feasible, but only with a major national transmission highway system, according to Mike Heyeck, senior vice president of American Electric Power Transmission

    Delivering power from the best windy regions to the growing urban supply requires a bigger, stronger transmission system, he added.

    Growing quickly

    The report comes at an important time in wind development. In 2007, wind was one of the fastest growing sources of electricity in the nation, second only to natural gas for the third consecutive year.

    According to an American Wind Energy Association report released last week, the U.S. wind energy industry continued new installations at a breakneck pace in the first quarter of 2008, putting 1,400 megawatts or approximately $3 billion worth of new generating capacity in place — enough to serve the equivalent of 400,000 homes — coupled with investment in 17 new manufacturing facilities over the past year.

    In addition, the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently announced four projects that will help meet the goal of 20 percent wind energy by 2030.

    Those projects include a new wind turbine blade test facility in Texas; a partnership between the Department of Energy, the laboratory and a state consortium led by the University of Houston; an agreement with Siemens Power Generation to test a commerical-scale wind turbine; and a new Siemens research and development facility in Colorado.

    Background

    In 2006, President Bush articulated a national imperative for greater energy efficiency and a more diversified energy portfolio. Citing wind energy as part of the solution, he noted that areas of the nation with good wind resources could satisfy up to 20 percent of America’s total electricity demand.

    Subsequently, government and industry came together to thoroughly explore the feasibility of generating 20 percent of U.S. electricity from wind by 2030 and produced this joint report to aid policy-makers and the public in better understanding the issues, investments, and likely outcomes associated with pursuing this objective.

    Related link:
    Columbiana County man is using wind to power his home

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