New wind resource maps are showing the ability for advanced wind turbines to reach stronger winds higher above the ground, unlocking a previously untapped wind resource area that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) says could eventually bring wind energy development to every state in America.
Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz discussed the new report “Enabling Wind Power Nationwide” this morning, which explains how new wind turbine designs are putting one of our largest domestic energy resources to use – the strong, consistent winds that can be found high above the ground in nearly all parts of the United States.
The nation’s most prominent energy expert made the announcement during a keynote speech to thousands of attendees at the WINDPOWER 2015 Conference and Exhibition in Orlando, Fla., the Western Hemisphere’s largest annual wind energy trade show.
“Wind generation has more than tripled in the United States in just six years, exceeding 4.5 percent of total generation, and we are focused on expanding its clean power potential to every state in the country,” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “By producing the next generation of larger and more efficient wind turbines, we can create thousands of new jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as we fully unlock wind power as a critical national resource.”
Enabling Wind Power Nationwide builds upon the DOE’s Wind Vision: A New Era for Wind Power report released this past March, which shows wind energy can become one of America’s top electricity sources, and save consumers money while doing so.
American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) CEO Tom Kiernan was quick to applaud the Secretary’s remarks, pointing out just a few of the ways Americans stand to benefit.
“This report is great news for consumers, job-seekers, rural communities and many others in these states that have yet to fully benefit from American wind power,” said Kiernan. “Wind turbine technology has advanced in just a few decades from the Model T era to more like that of a Tesla Model S. Advanced towers, blades and improved electronics to operate and maintain the turbines are all part of this revolution.”
“The technological advances described by Secretary Moniz have redrawn the wind resource map, validating the opportunity for all states to host wind development. Our domestic wind resource is massive – enough to meet our electricity needs 10 times over – but largely untapped,” added Kiernan.
More than 1,000 American wind turbines are already accessing higher wind resources with towers reaching 100 meters or more above the ground, rather than the 80 meter standard that had been the state-of-the-art for multiple years. Heights up to 120 meters or more are already common in Europe, allowing the stronger, steadier winds at that elevation to be tapped. At 110-meter hub heights, DOE expects the land area with physical potential for wind deployment in the U.S. to increase 54 percent (see maps below, found in Enabling Wind Power Nationwide), and at 140-meter hub heights, the potential wind deployment would increase 67 percent.
Advancement in turbine technology, including raising hub heights to 140 meters and lowering specific power, would open up an additional one-fifth of the land area of the United States for wind turbine locations, lighting up many parts of the country, especially the Southeast U.S.
Leaders in the industry welcomed today’s news and said their companies are excited by the opportunity:
- “Wind continues to gain access to new markets through technology innovation. In areas with good wind shear, taller tower technology and larger rotors will allow us to access better wind resources in a broader geographic area. Even at modest installed cost increases, we can potentially reduce wind energy costs in these markets and provide new local clean energy options.” – Karen Conover, Vice President, DNV GL
- “Taller wind towers represent a significant growth opportunity for wind energy in the United States. Siemens’ goal is to maximize the performance of each turbine to drive down cost, and new tower technology is in our future. We have experience with taller towers in Europe, and as policy-makers work to address the regulatory side, we stand ready to harness our global expertise to continue the robust expansion of wind energy in the U.S.” – Jacob Andersen, CEO of Siemens Wind Power and Renewables Onshore Americas.
- “Wind is already a cost effective way to help many States comply with the EPAs proposed Clean Power Plan. The wind industry has a strong track record on innovation to reduce costs to customers. Taller towers could improve these economics further and lead to increased deployment of wind assets so it’s very encouraging to see potential barriers to such innovation be addressed with focus.” – Susan Reilly, President, Renewable Energy Systems Americas Inc.
- “EDF Energies Nouvelles has proven the production advantage of utilizing on-shore wind turbines with hub heights in the range of 105-135 meters. According to the wind resource analysis in the Southeastern portion of the United States, this increase in hub height would open up the wind market and its economic and environmental benefits to the communities in these states where jobs and stable electricity pricing would be welcomed.” – Tristan Grimbert, President & CEO, EDF Renewable Energy.
- “We’re very excited about DOE’s efforts to help our industry identify and locate the rich wind resources above the traditional 80 meters, which will result in greater energy yields and open up new areas to wind development. This also sets the stage for advancing the next generation of proven tower technology that will enhance the capacity and generation of wind projects.” – Doug Fredrickson, Vice President, Blattner Energy, Inc.
- “What’s so exciting to me about tall towers is the way it opens new regions for wind development and makes in-region wind possible. Imagine if Louisiana could get its wind from right there on the Bayou, instead of having to import it from neighbor states. That’s the power of tall towers. This is a big advancement for the industry.” – Jacob Susman, CEO and Founder of OwnEnergy
- “Steel is regarded as one the most flexible materials in structural engineering and we believe that holds true for the latest designs in taller towers for the wind industry. Myriad grades, types and size of steel products can accommodate and enhance the design of today’s towers as well as the taller towers of tomorrow. Keeping the base sections within the legal limits of transport by rail and by truck is also imperative to keeping project costs in line. New designs of base sections with thicker walled steel or higher grades of steel allows wind turbine OEM’s to reach new heights while staying true to their proven tower designs of today and the past 20 years.” – John Purcell, Vice President, Energy Division, Leeco Steel, LLC
- “Europe has already demonstrated you can safely use significantly taller towers without compromising air traffic needs. Heading down this path will open several new U.S. areas for development and will provide another means to bring jobs and investment to areas that simply are not economic without them.” – Patrick Woodson, Chairman, E.ON
- “The wind energy industry is a dynamic and innovative sector with great potential to further diversify our nation’s energy portfolio, as evidenced by the U.S. Department of Energy’s recent Wind Vision report. Technological advancements will bring the environmental and economic benefits of wind energy to states previously thought to have little wind energy potential. We are encouraged by the scientific and engineering innovation that continues to advance the nation’s wind energy development.” – Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, Chairman and Vice Chairman, Governors’ Wind Energy Coalition
According to DOE’s recently released Wind Vision report, select areas in the Midwest, Northeast, and Southeast are expected to see economical wind deployment for the first time due to this next generation of wind turbine technology, including Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, which currently have no commercial wind turbines, and additional parts of Michigan and Minnesota.
Since 2008, advances in current wind turbine technology combined with 110 meter hub heights have doubled the geographic area where it is feasible to generate electricity, so that nearly half of the land area of the contiguous United States could be viable.
When these technological advances were paired with wind resource maps validating the physical wind potential at 80-meter hub heights, project development in states like Indiana grew from 0 MW of wind capacity at the beginning of 2008 to over 1,000 MW two years later, and 1,744 MW today.
Potential growth in Southeast will build onto already strong wind supply chain
While Southeastern utilities are already buying thousands of MWs of wind output from Midwest and Plains states, these recent technological advances are improving the economic viability of wind deployment in the Southeast itself. Heavily forested areas like the Southeastern U.S. benefit the most from these new turbine technologies, as high above the ground almost all parts of the U.S. have wind resources that are comparable to the treeless, wind-swept Plains.
The Southeast already benefits from a strong wind turbine supply chain, and wind project development would bring further economic development to the region, including well-paying construction and operations jobs. The ability to use in-region wind can provide Southeastern states and utilities with additional low-cost options for compliance with EPA’s Clean Power Plan, in addition to purchasing more wind energy from other regions.
Advances in technology raise productivity, lowers costs
High wind resource areas are also becoming even more productive thanks to a combination of longer blades, improved siting techniques and other factors. Some older sites are being repowered by new turbines. Others are receiving a variety of refinements to existing turbines such as blade tip extensions, vortex generators, and improved electronics, making them more productive. As a result, the average annual “capacity factor,” or percentage of the maximum rated capacity that a turbine generates year-round, now tops 50 percent in some cases.
These innovations have contributed to a drop in the price of wind-generated electricity. Wind’s levelized cost of energy (LCOE, the net cost to install and operate a turbine, divided by its lifetime energy output), has dropped 58 percent in just five years, according to the most recent study by Wall Street financial advisory firm Lazard.
Through technology advancements, hard work, and performance-based incentives like the federal Production Tax Credit, the U.S. has become number one in the world in wind energy production. Without stable federal and state policy, the continued innovation and further wind cost reductions needed to achieve the Wind Vision could be placed in jeopardy. By continuing this successful policy, we can put one of America’s greatest energy resources to use, providing consumers with stably-priced and zero-emission energy.