Each spring the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) releases their annual wind-energy report outlining the state of the industry for the prior year. This past year was the first that’s seen declining growth since 2007. But, as the report points out, we still have some things going for us.
In 2010, the U.S. wind industry added 5,116 MW to the national electricity portfolio, an increase of 14.6%. While this is typically considered strong growth for an industry, the number pales in comparison to the 10,010 MW and 40% growth the industry saw in 2009. However, politically and geographically, wind power is gaining ground. There are now 38 states with utility-scale wind turbines installed in their borders—36 of which have renewable portfolio standards or goals.
Furthermore, wind-power generation throughout 2010 provided 2.3% of the nation’s electricity, an increase from 1.8% in 2009. While this may seem like a paltry number, it represents significant growth and support for renewable energies, which as a whole produced 10.3% of the U.S. electricity supply.
This last decade has seen tremendous growth in wind-power capacity. In 2000, over 60% of the U.S. wind-power capacity was clustered in just one state: California. Now, with 38 states involved, the U.S. boasts the second largest capacity in the world with 14 states above the 1,000 MW mark. A main contributing factor to this growth has been efficiency increases in technologies. For example, in 1990, not only did a typical turbine have a nameplate capacity of only 250 kW, it performed with relatively low capacity factors and availability. Over the last two decades, the technology has improved to the point where availability to generate is usually above 98%, while taller towers and better siting technology have enabled most project owners to achieve capacity factors in the range of 30 to 40% annually. This means that a turbine with a nameplate capacity of 1.75 MW, or seven times larger, can produce as much as fifteen times more electricity.
In addition to a strong installed capacity of wind-generated electricity, as 2010 came to a close there were over 5,600 MW worth of wind projects under construction in the U.S. That’s more than double the 2,750 MW that were under construction going in to 2009. Now, admittedly, the original deadline of the ARRA 1603 cash grant had some effect on these numbers, but not as much as you might think. AWEA reports that only 2,500 MW were initiated in the fourth quarter, indicating that the other 3,000 MW were likely scheduled to begin construction in 2010 regardless.
Supporting these projects, the U.S. financial sector delivered roughly $11.1 billion in project debt and tax equity deals throughout the year. The 20 tax equity deals struck last year amounted to $2.7 billion and supported about 3,800 MW of increased wind-power capacity. Also, with $8.4 billion invested in debt capital, 29 new deals were struck—delivering nearly 5,600 MW. An additional $820 million, supporting over 600 MW, was raised in 2010 but did not close before the calendar year end.
All of this growth in the wind industry has led to substantial growth in the manufacturing sector as well. In 2010, the United States employed about 20,000 workers in wind-related manufacturing across 400 facilities. Similarly, employment in permanent operations and maintenance jobs expanded during the year to help run the nation’s inflating wind-power fleet. Overall, even with substantial economic headwinds, the U.S. wind industry was still able to support 75,000 direct and indirect jobs in 2010, down from 85,000 in 2009.
To sum up the report in a few sentences, the wind industry in the United States is growing, and growing strong. We have some of the best natural wind resources in the world and we are just recently beginning to utilize them. State and federal policies are slowly but surely tilting in favor of wind energy. As these policies are implemented on a more consistent and long-term basis, the growth of the wind industry will grow stronger and faster than before. We truly have a lot to look forward to.
Filed Under: Policy