How Wind Power Competes

Wind energy has incredible potential and is cost-competitive with other, more traditional energy sources.
By Peyton Baldwin
May 2, 2008
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In the United States, three states — Kansas, North Dakota and Texas — have enough wind capacity to power the entire country. Building wind farms like this one will help us reach that potential.
ISTOCKPHOTO/BRIAN JACKSON


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Where are the Wind Turbines?

Q: I'd like to see renewable energy in action. Where can I find wind turbines?

Wind power is the fastest growing form of electricity in the world. According to WorldWatch Institute, in 2007 the world capacity of wind power rose 27 percent to 94,100 megawatts. In the United States alone, 5,244 megawatts of wind power were added, enough to power 4.5 million homes. This growth is above recent projections and puts wind power on track to be a prime competitor in the power industry.

But that’s just the beginning. Wind power has enormous potential that is just starting to be tapped. In fact, three states — Kansas, North Dakota and Texas — have the wind capacity to power the entire country. Click here to watch the growth in U.S. wind power over the last 10 years and here to find wind projects near you.

Why We Need Wind

One attraction of wind power is that it can replace electricity from coal plants, which currently provide 54 percent of the United States’ electricity. The Union of Concerned Scientists says coal plants are the single biggest air polluter in the United States. Coal plants pollute the atmosphere at almost every level of production: Mining, transportation and storage all cause different forms of pollution. Per year, there are approximately 23,000 deaths in the United States from coal power plant pollution. In contrast, wind power creates no water or air pollution, and has no emissions or waste from its distribution.

The rising and unstable price of conventional electricity over the years is another reason for the growth of wind power. In Austin, Texas, wind energy is bought at a fixed price, therefore giving customers a stable price for electricity. According to the Earth Policy Institute, in 2005 wind-generated electricity cost less than conventional electricity. This switch was due to rising natural gas prices and declining wind energy prices. In the ’80s, wind power was about 25 cents/kWh, but by 2005 that dropped to 4 to 6 cents/kWh. Although wind power prices have trended up in the last few years, they still remain cost-competitive with other forms of energy.

Why Wind Power Needs Our Support

But even though wind power is cheap to produce, building wind-electric plants requires considerable capital investment. In the United States, getting investors interested in these projects can be difficult because of the government’s on-again, off-again support for wind power through tax credits and other legislation.

Currently, the growth of wind power is promoted by the production tax credit, which goes to renewable energy facilities for the first 10 years the turbine operates. The credit is good through December 31, but Congress recently failed to extend the tax credit in the 2007 energy bill. New legislation will have to be passed in order for the credit to apply thereafter.

A few other challenges have the potential to slow wind power’s progress. USA Today reports that there is a shortage of power lines that wind farms can hook into. Current power lines are nearing capacity and many wind farms are not built close to existing lines. A decision on a solution to this problem will need to be made in order for wind power growth to continue.

Additionally, General Electric has confirmed there is also a shortage of wind turbines. At the end of 2007, $11 billion in wind turbines were on backorder, but now that amount has grown to $12 billion. Facilities must wait a year or year and a half to receive a turbine. The shortage is because of the high demand and the time it takes to engineer the most efficient turbine possible. The result is many projects being put on hold.

These obstacles are partly because of the high demand and exceptional growth of the industry. Nevertheless, new wind farms are popping up all over the world. The outlook for the wind industry once it blows past these drawbacks is very good.

To learn more about small-scale, residential wind turbines read New and Improved Wind Power. Or, learn more about wind farms in Whither Wind.


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Post a comment below.

 

CarolynR
9/6/2009 3:08:38 PM
Wind generators at the industrial scale are not shaping up to be as green as we thought. There is a lot of technology at any scale of turbine, but it really gets complex the bigger they get. At 400' up with a rotor diameter of approx 260+' a responsible mind starts thinking about impacts to other things around a unit that size. It stands to reason that some avian species may have some difficulty navigating around these units. So where do you put them then? In Maine, they are producing projects all across these mountains here and it is gaining in knowledge that the wind is not viable enough here to justify a 4 million per unit investment. I have a turbine at my residence because I designed our home completely off-the-grid. Most of the design concepts where looking into the most efficient ways to provide what we needed to sustain. The turbine we got was a Whisper 200 1 kW unit. Rated to produce 200kW a month. I figured it should produce about 3500kW a year on average. Turns out it has produced about 140.40kW in it's first year and that is probably all we are going to get out of it, BUT, it is a truly green unit, because it doesn't require any hydraulic fuel like the industrial scale units do (60 gal a month per unit), the rotor blade diameter is 9ft and no large scale vibrations or bird and bat kill. In the manual it was basic understanding that the gauge of the electrical cable increased with every foot away from the battery bank for set-back which identifies to me that making wind energy travel is not very possible. This explains the transmission line increases to me which has a pretty serious health risk involved there,(google Stray Voltage). Conservation on the individual level as to how we use energy and taking personal responsibility of what you and your household demand is going to be the only way out of this rabbit whole. People like myself and companies like Mother Earth work hard to see green energy and concepts gain momentum and it is upsett

r2
12/26/2008 6:05:54 AM
The notion that three states can power up most of the USA with wind power, while in theory might be possible, is in practice, much more difficult given cost of electricity transmission to locations where people will actually use the electricity. Power losses for electricity transmission over power lines are 18% to 35% for moderate and long distances (the latter number is also true for old power grids over even moderate distances) To employ the three states as mentioned to power the entire USA, and do it even in a 50/50 cost sharing agreement between government and business would see everyone's taxes rise dramatically to pay for the grid upgrade and new grid sections. To pass such an agreement in government would require a political mindset and voter shift from social democracy to democratic socialism. (read behave more like the DDR) No question such a project would be great news for the three states mentioned but it would be not so great for the other 47 states who would pay the bill through much higher Federal taxes or levies. Distributed wealth and jobs is the model I think everyone is looking for (worldwide), so when such a project idea is measured against this goal, it's merit diminishes dramatically. This is not to say the idea, promoted by T. Boone Pickens does not have merit. The idea does have merit if implemented in a much more limited form (for the three states and immediate neighbor states for example to reduce transmission costs and manage spend on transmission upgrades and new builds responsibly), provided politicians and state governments weigh the relative merits of building remote wind farms and building a new power grid to connect to them built by big multi-national concerns VERSUS producing the electricity near or at the source through the use micro and medium sized wind or solar power devices (possibly produced in country) Using small wind and small solar should not be just grid connected, but also connected to an

Michael_2
7/1/2008 3:02:27 AM
I was curious if anyone knows of an affordable way to make a DIY wind generator for home use?








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