That’s according to leading wind energy executives during this week’s American Wind Energy Association’s WINDPOWER 2016 Conference and Exhibition, as thousands of attendees continued to file into the Western Hemisphere’s largest wind energy industry event all year.
Helping to grow wind energy in the U.S. are a mix of stable federal policy, passed late last year on a bipartisan vote by Congress, forward-looking states raising their renewable energy targets, and corporate and other non-utility buyers aiming to cut carbon pollution and pass savings onto American homeowners and businesses.
“We’ve built an American success story that creates jobs, cuts carbon pollution and cuts costs for American consumers,” said Tom Kiernan, CEO of the association (AWEA). “To continue this success by installing at least eight gigawatts a year through 2020, we need our 88,000 workers to share our story with elected officials, the communities that host our projects, and with all the young people throughout the country.”
“Wind is winning,” said Chris Brown, President of Vestas America and recently-elected board chair of AWEA. ““While our fuel is free, our customers know, the machines aren’t free. The challenge is to make renewable technology so cheap that it’s the obvious choice. That’s why we’ve driven down costs by technology advancement including longer rotors, taller towers, advanced controls, and product reliability. Investor appetite has grown, also lowering the cost of capital. And as a result, the real cost of wind power in the US has dropped by more than 60 percent.”
Wind power’s transformation is on full display this week in Louisiana, leading former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana to note its potential for her state.
“Louisiana has a proud energy past, and a proud energy present, and we are very interested in being part of the energy future,” said Landrieu, now Senior Advisor at Van Ness Feldman. “Louisiana has always been great manufacturing state and we already have a foot in the future with three manufacturers of wind turbines here. If our nation wants to be truly energy independent, which we can be, meeting our clean energy targets, having an industry like this growing 10% by 2020, 20% by 2030, is really remarkable.”
“Wind power is not just part of, but now leading the transformation of the U.S. and the world economies into low carbon, renewable-fueled economies,” said Kiernan.
There is now enough wind power installed in 40 states to reliably supply power for 20 million American homes. After installing more new electric generating capacity than any other technology last year, including solar or natural gas, wind power jobs grew 20% entering 2016. Along with this ‘wind rush,’ U.S. manufacturing and innovation continues to advance turbine technology and enable it to be economically installed in new areas including the American South.
States, corporate buyers and others grow market for clean, low-cost wind energy
Cost cuts have led zero-emission wind energy to become one of the biggest, fastest, cheapest ways to cut carbon pollution. This result has attracted a growing number of states, including California, Oregon, Maryland, Vermont, and Hawaii, to raise their state laws requiring larger integration of renewable energy.
“We’ve gone to 20% renewables by 2020, we’re ahead of schedule,” said Steve Berberich, President and Chief Executive Officer of the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), a featured guest in today’s opening General Session. “Without question we’ll be able to manage the grid with renewable energy at 50%. I don’t anticipate California stopping at 50%; I think we’ll go higher and higher and higher.”
Encouraging renewable energy’s growth has helped keep state’s economies competitive. A recent national report from Lawrence Berkley National Lab and the National Renewable Energy Lab shows that fulfilling state RPS policies creates billions in economic and environmental savings and has led to the addition of more than 200,000 jobs nationwide.
To lower their carbon footprints and keep long-term costs low, corporate buyers, including Google, Amazon, Facebook, and other emerging customers, are buying more and more wind power. These big-name brands and others signed 52%, or 2,074 MW, of the capacity contracted in 2015 through Power Purchase Agreements, a trend expected to continue.
Partly due to this rising source of demand, wind energy could grow to the leading source of electricity in America at 35% by 2050 according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Vision report, which shows wind can support 380,000 well-paying jobs by 2030 and 600,000 jobs by 2050.
Wind already supports hundreds of wind manufacturing workers in Louisiana, including in factories that produce turbine blades, and components for the U.S. offshore industry. Louisiana is among 43 states with wind-related factories, which total over 500 nationwide. While other Southeastern utilities already recognize its value, Louisiana utilities are now also showing interest, joining in signing long-term, fixed price contracts to import wind across state lines and save consumers money.
Next-generation of emerging leaders take part in WINDPOWER
As wind power rapidly grows, so are the career opportunities. Over 400 high school and middle school teams arrived Tuesday to compete in the annual National KidWind Challenge. The competition challenges teams to design hand-crafted wind turbine models with the highest energy output and the most innovative design to win a grand prize of $1,500. A panel of industry experts will also award prizes for Best Design, Best Teamwork and Creativity in Solving Instant Challenges.
The second-ever U.S. Department of Energy Collegiate Wind Competition is also on site. It challenges hundreds of university students from across the country and Puerto Rico to create research-driven wind turbines, develop business plans, and demonstrate knowledge of siting constraints for product installation. Pennsylvania State University, champions of the inaugural competition at WINDPOWER 2014 in Las Vegas, is competing again this year.
“This competition, challenging students to be creative and put their talents to the test, better prepares them to become the next generation of leaders in this industry than just about any class,” said Jason Roadman, Test Engineer for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), an organizer and judge. “Having been an example of this myself, it’s neat to see the next generation advance their skills so that they can help grow this homegrown American industry.”
AWEA’s Emerging Leaders Program has expanded from 14 “rising stars” at last year’s WINDPOWER 2015 in Orlando to nearly 30 this year. It recognizes talent, provides opportunities for mentoring, and enhances knowledge sharing and skill development for young industry professionals.
Employers for these emerging leaders include this year’s top sponsors for WINDPOWER, labeled Terawatt Sponsors: Siemens, GE Renewable Energy and DNV GL. Megawatt sponsors are Apex Clean Energy, AWS Truepower, Blattner Energy, EDF Renewable Energy, J.P. Morgan, Mortensen, Pattern Energy, TGM Wind Services, and UpWind Solutions.
Filed Under: News, Policy