U.S. wind energy grows by record 8,300 MW


The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) announced the remarkable news today:

The U.S. wind energy industry shattered all previous records in 2008 by installing 8,358 megawatts (MW) of new generating capacity (enough to serve over 2 million homes).

Half of that was brought online in the fourth quarter, and so I expect stories in big media touting how well alternative energy has been weathering the brutal economic storm — as if (see “Global recession? Must be time for the media’s alternative-energy backlash“).

Still, the AWEA report made clear that there could be tough times ahead, unless Congress takes strong action on tax credits (see “House Ways & Means embraces refundable renewable tax credits“):

The massive growth in 2008 swelled the nation’s total wind power generating capacity by 50% and channeled an investment of some $17 billion into the economy, positioning wind power as one of the leading sources of new power generation in the country today along with natural gas, AWEA added. At year’s end, however, financing for new projects and orders for turbine components slowed to a trickle and layoffs began to hit the wind turbine manufacturing sector.

“Our numbers are both exciting and sobering,” said AWEA CEO Denise Bode. “The U.S. wind energy industry’s performance in 2008 confirms that wind is an economic and job creation dynamo, ready to deliver on the President’s call to double renewable energy production in three years. At the same time, it is clear that the economic and financial downturn have begun to take a serious toll on new wind development. We are already seeing layoffs in the area where wind’s promise is greatest for our economy: the wind power manufacturing sector. Quick action in the stimulus bill is vital to restore the industry’s momentum and create jobs as we help make our country more secure and leave a more stable climate for our children.”

The new wind projects completed in 2008 account for about 42% of the entire new power-producing capacity added nationally last year, according to initial estimates, and will avoid nearly 44 million tons of carbon emissions, the equivalent of taking over 7 million cars off of the road.

The amount that the industry brought online in the 4th quarter alone — 4,112 MW – exceeds annual additions for every year except 2007. In all, wind energy generating capacity in the U.S. now stands at 25,170 MW, producing enough electricity to power the equivalent of close to 7 million households and strengthening our national energy supply with a clean, inexhaustible, homegrown source of energy.

Iowa, with 2,790 MW installed, surpassed California (2,517 MW) in wind power generating capacity. The top five states in terms of capacity installed are now:

-Texas, with 7,116 MW
-Iowa, with 2,790 MW
-California, with 2,517 MW
-Minnesota, with 1,752 MW
-Washington, with 1,375 MW

Oregon moved into the club of states with more than 1,000 MW installed, which now counts seven states: Texas, Iowa, California, Minnesota, Washington, Colorado, and Oregon.

About 85,000 people are employed in the wind industry today, up from 50,000 a year ago, and hold jobs in areas as varied as turbine component manufacturing, construction and installation of wind turbines, wind turbine operations and maintenance, legal and marketing services, and more. About 8,000 of these jobs are construction jobs, and a significant number of those will be lost in 2009 if financing for the pipeline of new projects is not quickly restored.

Wind power’s recent growth has also accelerated job creation in manufacturing, where the share of domestically manufactured wind turbine components has grown from under 30% in 2005 to about 50% in 2008. Wind turbine and turbine component manufacturers announced, added or expanded 70 new facilities in the past two years, including over 55 in 2008 alone. Those new manufacturing facilities created 13,000 new direct jobs in 2008. However, because of the recent slowdown in orders, wind turbine and turbine component manufacturers in different parts of the country are beginning to announce layoffs.

“The hope is that provisions such as those included in the House stimulus bill to restore the effectiveness of the tax incentives for renewable energy will quickly become law and provide the capital needed to continue to build projects,” said Bode. “Because wind projects can be built quickly, positive legislation from Congress will have immediate and visible effects. Looking forward, it will also be important for the new Administration and Congress to put in place long-term, supportive renewable energy policies to make the new clean energy economy a reality.”

I do expect Congress and the President to act quickly here.

My big question at this point: Does the President’s commitment to double renewable energy over the next 3 years (presumably from 2009 through 2012) mean a doubling from the total level of renewables at the end of 2008, and thus include all this new wind (see Obama: “We will double the production of alternative energy in the next three years”)?

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31 Responses to U.S. wind energy grows by record 8,300 MW

  1. This is the kind of information that the public needs to see in a big way. It shows how renewables will help the economy.
    And achieve a clean grid faster than anything else.
    Imagine building 8 new nuclear plants of average size in a year.

  2. Imagine building 8 new nuclear plants of average size in a year.

    8GW of wind capacity is not nearly equivalent to 8GW of nuclear capacity because the wind is intermittent and unpredictable.

    [JR: Intermittent, but not unpredictable. Day ahead forecasting is now quite good. Capacity factor on wind is 30% to 35%, which is indeed considerably lower than where nuclear plants are today. Fortunately, there are many forms of carbon-free energy that are baseload or better, starting with efficiency and solar thermal.]

  3. Jared Gellert says:

    People don’t realize how much the credit crisis has hurt wind power. GE, for instance, expects to sell 14% fewer turbines in 2009 than it did in 2008, and attributes that to financing issues. I hope Joe is right that Congress addresses these funding issues by making credit available or backstopping commercial credit in some form or fashion.

  4. Kojiro Vance says:

    Wind has an average availability of just 27%, compared to 90% or better for nuclear or pulverized coal. So in reality this is equivalent to a couple of conventional power plants.

    March 2008 also marked the first wind-caused blackout in Texas when the wind over most of West Texas stopped blowing. Without further investment in transmission at some point wind tops out to make the local grid too unstable.

    Still, wind power will make an important contribution to the energy mix in the future. We need to continue to expand this resource while being realistic about its potential.

  5. paulm says:

    Its called sustainable living when the wind stops, we all go for a lemonade break or siesta. Then get back to work when it gets going.

    America needs to slow down.

  6. paulm says:

    Is this a peek after peak oil – what it will be like when we start to slide down the other side of the slop…

    Nepal’s 16 hour power cuts

  7. Harold Pierce Jr says:

    Hey paulm:

    Do you want your house hooked to a wind farm? If the wind dies right in the middle of the Super Bowl, a Stanely Cup or a major soccer tourney game, I’d go crazy. If the wind goes down when its -30 deg C like in Winnipeg, you freeze to death in a matter hours after your furnance quits working. Then all the water pipes would freeze and burst. More importantly, no internet. No r-e-k-o-p.

    Thanks but no thanks.

    [JR: Cogent argument, if anyone were talking about running the entire electricity system of the country on wind tomorrow.]

  8. Nicolas F.J. Müller says:

    This is not a major problem as there are many ways a back up for wind power can be provided. Here are some of the solutions. But first let me remind you that wind predictability has reached an over 95% level. In turn, we know when to start the back up.

    Depending on the grid structure, around 0.6 to 0.7 MW are needed to back up 1MW of wind power capacity.

    * Load management: a lot of factories or even household applicances could easily adapt to the availabiltiy of power (boilers, fridges, freezers, etc.)
    * Conventional coal power plants: as they need close to 1h to ramp up, they represent the middle load. The combination of wind and coal is still less CO2 intensive than coal alone and can represent a transition solution
    * Natural gas fired power plants: cheap and efficient and flexible. Part of the energy required (compression of the gas) can sometimes be used from the production peak in the case of natural gas stored in salt layers.
    * Local biomass plants: the production of biogas through local biomass digesters allows the flexible buffering the gas which can be fired in cheap reciprocical engines at times wind power is not available.
    * exotic solutions ranging from the loading of electric or hybrid cars to the storage of energy in high RPM flywheels (see proposals from Scott Sklar).

    Edit to the crisis problem: as a much higher share of the investment in wind power solutions is capital cost (and obviously not fuel) there is a real problem with the lack of capital.
    When I tried to trigger investments in energy efficiency with a real added value, the worldwide financial market was too busy instead putting the money in the household market with NO real created added value.

  9. Peter Sinclair says:

    Here in Michigan we already have the storage answer for the first round of wind buildout.
    On Lake Michigan, in Ludington, Michigan utilities have a large (1800MW) pumped storage facility that has been in operation for 30 years. It has been used to store off peak power and back up the grid when the load peaks – and it can easily
    accomodate the addition of a significant amount of new wind.

    As the mid-west ramps up (Michigan’s portion of the Great Lakes alone is estimated to have a 320 GW wind potential)- subterranean storage will become available, as the geology here is extremely favorable for that as well. ( much better use of space than for Carbon sequestration).

  10. Kojiro Vance says:

    Or how about that person hooked to an oxygen machine? Just tell them to stop breathing until the wind picks up again.

    I’m glad that Joe at least agrees that we can’t run on 100% renewables, but cutting demand isn’t the same thing as adding capacity. Efficiency might lower the overall demand but the peaks and valleys in electric use are still there. Wind complicates the problem. Even the best weather forecasts are frequently wrong. There is no way to get the same reliability from wind that we get from baseload conventional power plants.

    ERCOT does a pretty good job of day-ahead forecasting and accounting for the 6,000 or so MW of wind power, yet we still had a state-wide rolling black out. It fried the UPS on my home theater system.

  11. Dan G. says:


    “Even the best weather forecasts are frequently wrong.”

    We are not talking about weater forcasts here. As an active pilot I can tell
    you that wind forecasts are EXTREMELY reliable, even out to about 36 hours.

  12. ClaudeB says:

    A few comments.

    Harold, you picked a wrong example. Winnipeg won’t go in blackout at -30°C because Manitoba Hydro’s production is… over 95% hydro.

    Kojiro, you probably picked the worst RTO. ERCOT has a poor network of interconnections ties with other networks (1,106 MW), according to the NERC most recent long term reliability assessment.

    However, I dispute the fact that some control areas can’t go very near 100% renewables, depending on what’s available. Manitoba and Quebec stand out in that regard.

  13. Cripes, it’s funny how the inactivists think that anyone concerned with global warming is going to support policies that put lives in danger. We understand most of the issues, and we know that every issue has a solution that will work.

    By way of eample, Kojiro brings up the poor man or woman hooked up to an oxygen machine. OK, it’s concern.

    But another truth is that if we have clean energy, we won’t have nearly as many people hooked up to oxygen machines. The Lung Association suggests that more than $140 billion will be saved in medical costs in California just by transitioning the government fleet to zero-emission vehicles. The study indicates that California could avoid 300 premature deaths, 260 cases of chronic bronchitis, more than 7,000 asthma attacks, and 18,000 cases of respiratory distress each year.

    I know this to be true from personal experience as a medical student. My anatomy professor moved from the US to Canada simply because he had never seen a cadaver from any major city in the US that wasn’t black with pollution. The lungs from people in my small Canadian city were pink and healthy, even when they were 85 years old.

    We have much more to gain from a renewable energy future than most people realize.

  14. Kojiro Vance says:

    Dan G. – you need both a wind and weather forecast to estimate load. The event actually happened on 2/26/2008, not March. It was an unseasonably warm day. The problem was an unexpected increase in load combined with a drop in both wind and conventional power. The forecasts missed both.

    Claude B. took a swipe at ERCOT. Yes it doesn’t have much interconnect, so it operates on its own. I wouldn’t call it the worst RTO. I would save that title for these guys:

    You can go to near 100% renewables if you have a lot of hydro power in the mix. It is predictable and quickly dispatchable. For most of the country this really isn’t an option.

    Richard L. refutes my anectodatal argument by citing his own anectdotal argument. Black urban lungs have little to do with power generation. Take California. No coal fired power there (it is in Nevada), but they don’t have pink lungs either. I’d blame cars and city busses. I live in the suburbs and my lungs are nicely pink thank you.

    My point is that some renewables are unreliable yet our modern way of life depends on having power available 24/7. There will always need to be some baseload fossil fuel power in the mix.

    I like wind. I hope that we install another 8,000 MW in 2009. Wind turbine projects take a couple of years to put together, the Q4 installs were likely in the works long before the current credit crisis. We’ll see how 2009 plays out, but it is unlikely to be as good.

  15. paulm says:

    Hey, good attitude @Harold Pierce Jr ,

    Watch your Super bowl while Rome burns.

    Dam the future of humanity for your entertainment.

    Have a bud on me.

  16. paulm says:

    There going to be some neat solutions out there waiting in the wind.

    Eg take this project that’s happening now in Oregon where the are using car batteries to store eclectic energy….. 2009/ 01/ v2g-recharging-grid-with-electric-cars.html

    Hey, if we get efficient as well, (eg reduce our hours watching TV – radio is much better) then look at what can be achieved….

    Kenya to Get 30% of Power from One Wind Farm!

  17. Dan G. says:

    Vance says:

    “There will always need to be some baseload fossil fuel power in the mix.”

    Always is along time. I would agree there will always be a need for some carbon fuel power in the mix. I would prefer a system with many different sources of renewables that are mixed together for the baseload and then carbon is used only for peak loads. That may be a long way off but I don’t see any other place we can go.

  18. Scatter says:

    Alright, not 100% renewables but why not 99.9% renewables? (I’m sure someone somewhere would fire up a diesel generator at some point but I can live with that)

    Energy efficiency coupled with a fully interconnected grid uniting all the different renewable technologies and using EV batteries as storage capacity?

    I don’t view that as unreasonable, although it’s a long way away and in my view it should be the long term goal. Over in Europe this idea is starting to gain attention, why not in the States?

  19. Kojiro Vance says:

    No really I think we should wait for power from rainbows, moonbeams, and unicorn magic. There is always a preferred and better answer that is totally unreal.

    We get 50% of our electric power from coal, 20% from natural gas, 20% from nuclear and 10% from everything else. It is unrealistic to believe we can eliminate 70% of our generation capacity any time soon.

    The right answer is to transition to lower carbon fuels (like natural gas) and to more efficient uses of coal while at the same time reducing demand by promoting conservation when it makes sense.

  20. Scatter says:

    Many thanks for the condescending response. Really mature and helpful and also *exactly* what I expected.

    I’m not suggesting it happen in the next decade, hence: “…although it’s a long way away”.

    Of course there’ll be a transition period with a gradual shift in a lower carbon direction; but when you start to add up wind, geothermal, CSP, biomass and all the other renewable potentials (not technical potentials but real potentials) of which we’re only just starting to scrape surface, then it starts to look distinctly possible.

  21. Harold Pierce Jr says:

    ATTN: Kijiro Vance

    That black stuff in the lungs is called “road dust” (aka, atmospheric sludge) whose principle components are ultra fine particles of rubber, asphalt and soot from Diesel engines, mineral dust which includes concrete dust and brakes dust from from rotors, drumbs, pads and shoes.

    Ask yourself this simple question: Since 1900, where has the billions; and billions and billions of pounds of the rubber from tires gone. The simple answer is: Anywhere, everywhere but mostly on my cedar shake roof!

    I get about 1-2 four-liter plastic ice cream pales of this stuff when I clean out the gutters of my house several times a year.

    Do this experiment. Take a Post-It note and dab it on any horizontal exposed surface that has not been rained on for few days until it won’t
    stick anymore. The top of your car is a good surface from which to take samples. Then compare this Post-it to a clean one. The test Post-it has numerous tiny black particles.

    Use a ca 30x magnitude to examine the test Post-It. You can see the black particles and small round ones that look like sand. These are from concrete.

    Also check the leaves of trees near major roadways. These are encrusted with black road dust. Rub you finger on the sidewall of car tires. Note the very fine brake dust. And you breath in this stuff 24/7/365. Brake pads and shoes had asbsestos until it was recently phased out. A railroad car have 16 large brake shoes and these probably still contain asbestos.

    Check the windows of your house. This road dust gets thru tiny gaps between the frame and wall and the gaps of sliding windows.

    Synthetic rubber is not biodegradable and oxidizes hardly at all because it contains anti-oxidation chemicals to prevent oxidation of the innerwalls when pressured tires get really hot especially big rig truck tires and UV protectants. All synthetic rubber contains natural rubber which contain proteins that cause allergic reactions. Natural improves the sidewall flexibilty of car tires and high-performance tires have a much greater amount that standard tires.

    Google “tyre dust”, “rubber dust” and “road dust” I saw on article the estimated that the amount rubber dust deposition in the enviroment at about 10-15 billions pounds per year. How much of this stuff makes it into the polar region?

  22. Harold Pierce Jr says:

    Hey Joe!

    I want rock solid power because If I’m heads-up at the final table of a satellite tourny to WSOP in Vegas, I don’t want the screen to go black when I got the absolute nuts before the River card. If I lose power, I got 30 sec to get back on-line to the table or I forfeit. Losing 10 grand for the buy-in plus 3 grand for expenses would cause me to snap: I would go out and blow those stupid wind turbines to bits!

    [JR: That’s what solar thermal baseload (with rare natural gas backup) will be for in Nevada. Back on your meds!]

  23. Nicolas F.J. Müller says:

    To Kojiro:

    Quote: “Or how about that person hooked to an oxygen machine? Just tell them to stop breathing until the wind picks up again.”

    => hospitals typically all have a power back up of some form, often even mandated by law. The oxygen machine you talk about is at best anectdotal with its 2-10kWh max… I am talking about electric water boilers activated by telecom. networks such as GSM (or frequency comparisons) to be turned off when the load is low. I am also thinking about the several MW of grinding taking place in cement plants or the GW in electro steel mills.

    Quote: “You can go to near 100% renewables if you have a lot of hydro power in the mix. It is predictable and quickly dispatchable. For most of the country this really isn’t an option.”

    => Check the island of Bonaire… 100% renewable powergen: done. Ultimately it will be done but off course we will start with the easiest grids… so no barriers now and we will probably have the technology to overcome the barriers in for a 100%Ren.Power supply by 2040.

    Quote “We get 50% of our electric power from coal, 20% from natural gas, 20% from nuclear and 10% from everything else. It is unrealistic to believe we can eliminate 70% of our generation capacity any time soon.”

    => What is anytime soon??? Even GW Bush who is not the biggest friend of renewables admitted that solar PV will be at grid parity in 2015. Looking at the learning curve and the more than likely possibility of a new price spike for fossil fuels as soon as the crisis is over, I would say it will probably be earlier. By the way, ever read on the storage of high temperature heat for steam turbine generation based CSP through latent heat from molten salts? no? then this is the right time to learn more about it.

    Quote: “My point is that some renewables are unreliable yet our modern way of life depends on having power available 24/7. There will always need to be some baseload fossil fuel power in the mix.”.

    => you are making a lot of assumptions:
    * the only way to have enough back-up power for renewables is through fired power stations – wrong
    * the only fuels that can be burned in such fired power stations are fossil – wrong
    * as there is a baseload demand for power, the supply from this baseload component HAS to come from a baseload producing power plant – wrong
    * having a power availabiltiy 24/7 does not mean consumming 24/7. A freezer with a sufficient insulation and some latent heat materials can for example be operated solely during production peaks.

    Quote: “The right answer is to transition to lower carbon fuels (like natural gas) and to more efficient uses of coal while at the same time reducing demand by promoting conservation when it makes sense”.

    => As coal power plants have a financial lifetime of over 40 years, I really doubt this if we have to achieve an 80% decrease in CO2 emissions, especially as if investments are being made now, this would get them to need to operate until 2040… over 2/3 of their lifetime, solar power will already have become more cost effective, not to mention the cost of CO2 emissions they would bear. By suggesting new (=more efficient) coal power plants now, you create the perfect recipe for a “trashed investment”.

  24. Kojiro Vance says:

    Nick – I like renewables. I think we should move in that direction. But I also try to be realistic about getting there and I”m realistic about the costs.

    Most people on oxygen machines are living at home. Yes, there is battery backup – I have them all over the house, mostly to protect expensive electronic equipment. That is but one example. Many small manufacturers and other businesses also need stable, reliable power.

    Bonaire?? From the info Bonaire website: “However, it is also said that Bonaire is occasionally “generous” with its power, and surges and brownouts are not uncommon. If you plug anything electronically delicate into a wall outlet, it might not be a bad idea to have a small surge protector in between. These are available at most consumer electronics stores, such as Radio Shack.” Problem solved – FAIL.

    In the 20+ years I’ve been following PV solar it seems that it is always just a few years away from grid parity. I have a PV home solar and PV commercial scale economic model that I update every month or two. Currently PV solar is 30 cts/kWh for residential and about 20 cts/kWh for commercial scale. I can buy grid power for 13 cts. So I’m not there yet. We’re making progress though – only a few more years to the breakthrough and then a lot of years to ramp up production and installation.

    Electric water boilers would be a horribly inefficient way to make hot water. I can get about 90% thermal efficiency in a gas or oil fired boiler by burning the fuel directly. Electric boilers get near 100% efficiency, but the best you could do with a combined cycle gas turbine is 55-60% efficiency making the elctricity. So overall an electric boiler is 1/2 as efficient. As load shedders it is a non-starter. The better example is the baseball stadium in Phoenix. They buy power at night to chill a brine water that is used to cool off the stadium in the heat of the day.

    I’d agree that appliances can be made to load shed. But they aren’t available yet. What is the average life of a home appliance? 8-10 years? Smart appliances aren’t widely available today. They also need smart electric meters with time of day metering.

    Fortunately, I’m supposed to get a smart meter this year. I live in a very progressive state that leads the country in renewable energy production. I can buy 100% of my power from wind (if I wanted to). I’m looking forward to playing with the new meter. Until then I just have to watch TED:

    Energy isn’t just my job – it is also my hobby.

  25. Harold Pierce Jr says:

    Attn: Kijiro

    In BC, we residential consumers 5.5 cents pkwh plus some addition charges for transmission and GST. Large industrial consumers, (e.g., pulp mills, mining companies, etc) pay even less.

    Alternate energy has a long way to go to beat that price. Nat gas is also dirt cheap.

    As I said, “Come to super-natural, beautiful British Columbia. The Best Place of Earth! Really cheap juice for electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. We got cheap autopropane also.

    PS to Joe: I’m back on my meds. Just had a cup of coffee and a smoke!

  26. Kojiro Vance says:

    Harold – lots of cheap hydro in BC. There may be more hydro opportunities in North America but not nearly enough to make much of a difference.

    Those who believe that large scale electric power storage is right around the corner might want to study the Lake Elsinore Advanced Pumping Storage project. Local envrionmentalists have opposed LEAPS because the transmission lines go across a forest and impact the viewshed in and around Lake Elsinore. There is some question about whether the project even pays for itself. LEAPS is a good example of what faces potential storage projects in the future. Pumped storage requires mountains and a large source of water from which large volumes can be withdrawn and returned.

  27. Nicolas F.J. Müller says:

    Well, something that might get you interested in competitive PV:

    So, the question is now… is it better in a sunny country like Turkey to go with 20ct/kWh nuclear or 12-15ct/kWh PV on the southern coast which is 200 km max from where huge hydro reservoirs are available for the back up (we are not talking about billions for thousands of miles of back-up…)

    PV is for ex. also already cost-effective now in Sicily or parts of the Southern US. When other costs are taken into account over the lifetime of the installation, then the choice becomes more obvious.

    Off course the efforts have to be implemented first where the costs are the lowest… which means for ex. in the US in the rockies as they provide a large range of available energies which can be combined in a smart way.

  28. Tim Albinson says:

    And Iowa (with 2,790 MW installed) now surpasses California (2,517 MW) in wind power generating capacity? That’s a sign of how mainstream renewables are becoming. It will be interesting to see what happens in Nantucket Sound now that the offshore wind farm there has received final approval from the U.S. Minerals Management Service.

  29. Mark Riese says:

    The Key to 100% Renewables is simple – Variable Power Consumption to offset the intermittant power production of renewables.

    If you had 1000GW (actual production) of worst case scenario Renewable Production Capacity, and your peak load used 900GW, you’d be 100GW OVER the requirement for 100% Renewables. But to get to this point, you’d might need 4000GW Capacity, so just create industries that can Variably Consume or Store 3000GW, and BAM – you’ve got 100% Renewables.

    ANYONE who claims that 100% Renewable is not possible simply does not have the imagination nor faith in human potential to believe in what they can’t see.

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  31. I think as more and more wind turbines are produced, the cheaper the cost in production. It would also help a lot if we infrastructure already built!