This article comes from energy.gov
For decades, America has anticipated the transformational impact of clean energy technologies. But even as costs fell and technology matured, a clean energy revolution always seemed just out of reach. Critics often said a clean energy future would “always be five years away.” This report focuses on four technology revolutions that are here today. In the last five years they have achieved dramatic reductions in cost and this has been accompanied by a surge in consumer, industrial and commercial deployment. Although these four technologies still represent a small percentage of their total market (e.g. electricity, cars and lighting), they are growing rapidly. The report focuses on these four key technologies:
Onshore wind power
Polysilicon photovoltaic modules
In recent years, it has become increasingly clear that well-designed federal and state incentives and investments in research and development have the potential to stimulate significant energy transformations. For instance, from 1980 to 2002 the U.S. federal government’s production incentives for shale gas and support for new drilling technologies laid the foundation for that industry’s dramatic rise.
Today, time-limited tax credits for wind, solar, and electric vehicles and targeted support for research and development are supporting the expansion of these burgeoning markets. This analysis explains both the magnitude of and mechanisms behind these nascent revolutions – exploring the intersection between declining costs and surging demand. These industries are providing real world solutions for reducing emissions of harmful carbon pollution and slowing the effects of climate change.
Each sector examined has also become a major opportunity for America’s clean energy economy. The trends in each sector show that the historic shift to a cleaner, more domestic and more secure energy future is not some far away goal. We are living it, and it is gaining force.
Wind deployments on a steep upward climb. Today, deployed wind powering the United States has the equivalent generation capacity of about 60 large nuclear reactors. Wind is the first non-hydro renewable energy source to begin to approach the same scale as conventional energy forms such as coal, gas, and nuclear. This success has been decades in the making – with both government and private-sector R&D dollars propelling its progress.
From a technology standpoint three elements have been key to wind power’s success. The first is increasing size: wind turbines have gotten progressively larger in terms of generation capacity over the past 30 years and this has helped to drive down costs. In fact, since 1999 the average amount of electricity generated by a single turbine has increased by about 260%. The second is the scale of production.
As with many industries, increases in scale tend to drive down costs. Finally, wind farm operators have become more sophisticated in understanding and adapting to dynamic wind patterns. This has helped drive up the “capacity factor” – or the percentage of time that turbines are actually producing electricity. The federal Production Tax Credit – which pays an additional 2.3¢ per kilowatt-hour for the electricity produced by wind turbines over the first 10 years of operation – has also been critically important to incentivizing deployment of wind energy.
Skyrocketing demand, downward trending prices
Since the beginning of 2008, wind power capacity has more than tripled in the U.S. This has happened despite a jump in wind turbine costs from 2001 to 2009. But that rise in turbine prices is, in some senses, misleading. The cost to install the same sized turbine, in an area with the same level of wind resource has gone down. However, as more of the prime real estate for building wind farms – windy terrain near power lines and big cities – is populated by wind turbines, developers have moved to areas that are farther away from population centers and power lines, or have lower wind quality.
To compensate for lower wind speeds, many turbines are manufactured with bigger blades – to catch more wind. These bigger blades are more expensive, and this increase in costs was accentuated by the steep climb in commodity prices (e.g. steel and oil) from 2004 to 2008. But as commodity prices have receded, the average cost of new wind power has also started to recede, and deployment of wind turbines has skyrocketed. In 2012, the U.S. deployed almost twice as much wind as it did in 2011. In fact, wind accounted for 43% of new electrical generation capacity in the U.S. –more than any other source.
The future of wind
Wind continues as one of America’s best choices for low-cost, zero carbon, zero pollution renewable energy. The combined potential of land-based and off-shore wind is about 140 quads – or about 10 times U.S. electricity consumption today. And wind is 100% renewable, so it won’t ever run out. The industry is working to build new power transmission lines from some of the windiest parts of the country, to the most densely populated to maintain aggressive growth in the sector. This also includes building “marine” wind farms offshore – where steady ocean breezes harbor vast wind power potential. With continued technology improvements and policy support, the Department of Energy estimates that as much as 20% of projected U.S. electricity demand could be met by wind power by 2030.
Filed Under: News, Offshore wind, Policy