U.S. becomes global wind leader. Here’s how to stay that way.

The Global Wind Energy Council reported Monday:

The United States passed Germany to become world #1 in wind power installations, and China’s total capacity doubled for the fourth year in a row. Total worldwide installations in 2008 were more than 27,000 MW … 36% more than in 2007….

Global wind energy capacity grew by 28.8% last year, even higher than the average over the past decade, to reach total global installations of more than 120.8 GW at the end of 2008.

It just goes to show what this country can do with intelligent and (somewhat) consistent government policies — state-based renewable electricity standards and a federal tax credit (see “U.S. wind energy grows by record 8,300 MW“).

But the race is on for global leadership, and China is poised to be our major contender, as it “once again doubled its installed capacity by adding about 6.3 GW, reaching a total of 12.2 GW”:

In its response to the financial crisis, the Chinese government has identified the development of wind energy as one of the key economic growth areas.

“In 2009, new installed capacity is expected to nearly double again, which will be one third or more of the world’s total new installed capacity for the year,” said Li Junfeng, Secretary General of the Chinese Renewable Energy Industry Association (CREIA).

At this rate, China would be well on its way to overtake Germany and Spain to reach second place in terms of total wind power capacity in 2010. China would then have met its 2020 target of 30 GW ten years ahead of time.

The growing wind power market in China has also encouraged domestic production of wind turbines and components, and the Chinese manufacturing industry is becoming increasingly mature, stretching over the whole supply chain.

“Now, the supply is starting to not only satisfy domestic demand, but also meet international needs, especially for components,” said Li Junfeng. “In 2009, Chinese companies will start to enter the UK and Japanese markets, and orders for 200 blades have already been placed. There are also ambitions for exploring the US market in the coming years.”

Obama, however, has pledged “We will double the production of alternative energy in the next three years,” which means doubling wind. That would mean another 25 GW of wind for a U.S. total of 50 GW by the end of 2012.

What is the medium-term potential for wind in this country? That was laid out by a remarkable report from the Bush DOE last year, that said wind can be 20% of U.S. power by 2030 — with no breakthroughs and that found:

  • Annual installations need to increase by only a factor of three from current levels by 2018.

[Actually U.S. installations now need to increase by only about 50% from 2008 levels by 2013 to achieve th2 20% goal!]

  • Costs of integrating intermittent wind power into the grid are modest. 20 percent wind can be reliably integrated into the grid for less than 0.5 cents per kWh.
  • No material constraints currently exist. Although demand for copper, fiberglass and other raw materials will increase, achieving 20 percent wind is not limited by the availability of raw materials.
  • This would require 300,000 MW of wind, delivering electricity for about 6 to 8.5 cents per kilowatt hour, unsubsidized (i.e. no federal tax credit) and including the cost of transmission to access existing power lines within 500 miles of wind resource [new nuclear is currently over 20 cents/kwh (see here)].
  • The 20% Wind Scenario could require an incremental investment of as little as $43 billion NPV [net present value] more than the base-case no new Wind Scenario. This would represent less than 0.06 cent (6 one-hundredths of 1 cent) per kilowatt-hour of total generation by 2030, or roughly 50 cents per month per household.


The benefits the country gets for this small incremental investment are staggering:

  • Reduce carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation by 25 percent in 2030.
  • Reduce natural gas use by 11%;
  • Reduce water consumption associated with electricity generation by 4 trillion gallons by 2030;
  • Increase annual revenues to local communities to more than $1.5 billion by 2030; and
  • Support roughly 500,000 jobs in the U.S., with an average of more than 150,000 workers directly employed by the wind industry.

That certainly qualifies as a no-brainer. How do we get there? The three most obvious policies are

  1. Continuing the production tax credit for wind
  2. A 25% renewable electricity standard for utilities by 2025.
  3. A cap and trade system that results in a significant price for carbon.

The stimulus bill will include the first policy, presumably with refundability. The major energy bill that will be enacted later in the year will almost certainly include the second policy. And I expect Obama will get the climate bill next year, though that probably won’t get a significant price for carbon for at least five years. We should have the first two in place lasting until carbon dioxide is, say, consisently over $40 a ton.

Wind power must be the cornerstone of any serious climate policy. At the same time, we certainly need an aggressive push on plug-in hybrids, to help enable the massive ramp up wind, especially post-2015, by providing a storage system that can take up the excess nightime wind. Now throw in an aggressive push on energy efficiency, solar PV, solar thermal baseload — and you can finally start seriously reducing U.S. carbon dioxide emissions without raising the nation’s energy bill (see “An introduction to the core climate solutions“).

10 Responses to U.S. becomes global wind leader. Here’s how to stay that way.

  1. John McCormick says:


    I am a wind power believer so do not reject my comment as shilling for coal and BAU.

    You said:

    [At the same time, we certainly need an aggressive push on plug-in hybrids, to help enable the massive ramp up wind, especially post-2015, by providing a storage system that can take up the excess nightime wind. ]

    That is more wishful thinking than one should fit into a single sentence.

    An aggressive push for plug-ins by 2015 will not materialize in the timeline and proportions your statement envisions. And, no fleet of plug-ins will solve the energy storage challenge facing both wind.

    Until we get real about the size, cost, technology and all aspects of the energy storage challenge, renewables will continue to bump up against the grid stability problems they now face. Wishing wind and solar onto the grid is not an answer. FERC, NERC and ISOs have to be assured the grid can accommodate so much intermittent power.

    Building a very extensive and expensive smart grid is a better investment than plug-ins from the outset becasue today’s and tomorrow’s plug-ins will be relying upon fossil electric.

    Ask the wind energy association to share its thoughts on wind power storage.

    John McCormick

    [JR: You misread my statement. It is post-2015 that we could start using a lot more storage. Yes, I am fully aware that there are many ways to store windpower. They aren’t cheap when we are talking tens of GW. I hope they get cheaper.

    But Obama has committed to one million plug-ins by 2015, so it is post-2015 that will see the steep part of the S-curve take off. Yes, I see plug ins as a major enabler of wind as we approach and exceed 100 GW installed capacity in the post-2015 timeframe.

    And yes we need new transmission, as the post says.]

  2. Joe:

    You may not have seen it, but the Department of Energy and Climate Change in the UK released a report last week that suggested that offshore wind energy could bring 25 GW of energy to the UK by 2020… enough to power every home in the country.

  3. paulm says:

    Lets face it there was a campaign of miss information about whether renewable could be the principle source of our energy – and we fell for it til now.

  4. Peter McEvoy says:

    Of course not JUST wind power will supply our energy needs. We need a distributed network of a variety of technologies including hydro (from ocean waves) power, wind power, solar (photovoltaic and direct heat), geothermal etc. It has been shown numerous times that this is feasible.

    An example- Vancouver, CA, a city with a metropolitan area over 2million, gets over 80% of its electricity from renewable hydropower.

    I’m just glad there is finally competition to install MORE renewable energy in an effort to out-do other countries.

  5. Wind energy which can’t be stored or used in the grid could still be used for electrolytic cracking of CO2 and water to produce syngas. That effectively would be a way to store excess wind energy, and at the same time reduce coal emissions.

  6. NASA says wind is a 15% solution at best. The existence of some wind energy for a few poeple doesn’t mean there is enough wind energy for everybody. See:
    minus the graphics.:
    Large images [On the original web site. If you look at the images, you see that the best wind is at very INconvenient locations, like near Antarctica and in the North Pacific ocean.]

    “Wind energy has the potential to provide 10 to 15 percent of the world’s future energy, according to Paul Dimotakis, chief technologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Once windmills are installed, wind can be converted to electricity inexpensively. But not everyone likes wind farms. The giant collection of whirling blades mars scenic views and can kill birds and bats, particularly if located in a high-traffic flyway. To minimize these risks, one solution may be to place wind farms in the ocean. Wind tends to blow stronger over the ocean than over land. The ocean presents a smooth surface over which wind can glide without interruption, while hills, mountains, and forests tend to slow or channel wind over

    But, as any sailor could tell you, wind over the ocean isn’t consistent. In some places, the air is still, while in others, the wind blows fiercely. To identify potential wind farm locations, NASA scientists Tim Liu, Wenqing Tang, and Xiaosu Xie, all at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, mapped out average wind intensity over the ocean between 2000 and 2007. They created their maps from data collected by NASA’s Quick Scatterometer (QuickSCAT), which measures wind speed and direction over the world’s oceans. The satellite sends pulses of microwave energy through the atmosphere to the ocean surface and measures the energy that bounces back from the wind-roughened surface. The energy of the microwave pulses changes depending on wind speed and direction. The scientists averaged QuikSCAT’s measured wind speeds by season, and then calculated the wind power density, the amount of energy that could be derived from a wind turbine in a given location. Their maps for the winter and summer seasons are shown here.

    Wind strength is influenced by seasonal patterns, land-ocean interactions, land topography, and ocean temperatures. All of these interactions are evident in this pair of images. Areas of high wind power density, where winds are strongest, are purple, while low power density regions are light blue and white.

    The largest patterns shown in the images are seasonal patterns. In December, January, and February, winter storms fuel strong winds in the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. In June, July, and August, winter reigns in the Southern Hemisphere, and the pattern is reversed. The Asian monsoon also controls the seasonal distribution of wind. In June, July, and August, strong winds gust across the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. From December to February, the monsoon winds blow over the East China Sea. Finally, the trade winds trace their way across the tropics, stronger in the winter than in the summer.”

    In places where the land and the ocean interact to generate strong winds, the wind power density is more consistent. Winds accelerate as they deflect around a bit of land sticking into the ocean. This feature is most obvious off the southern tip of South America, which has high wind potential in both summer and winter. The effect occurs in other locations, such as off Tasmania, New Zealand, and northern California, and is easiest to see in the summer when seasonal winds are calmer.

    The spot of brilliant purple in an otherwise calm ocean off the Pacific coast of Central America in December, January, and February is an example of strong winds created by the topography of the land. In Central America, as in other places, mountains channel the wind, creating a natural wind tunnel that sends strong gusts over the ocean.

    The final wind pattern shown in this image is the wind created by the ocean itself. Warm ocean currents naturally warm the air above them. When ocean currents carry warm water into an area of cool water, or vice versa, the temperature difference in the air generates wind. The clearest example in these images is the Gulf Stream, which snakes up the east coast of the United States and east over the North Atlantic. In both winter and summer, winds are stronger over the Gulf Stream than the surrounding ocean.
    Liu, W.T., Tang, W., and Xie, X. (2008, July 8). Wind power distribution over the ocean. Geophysical Research Letters, 35 (L13808).
    NASA. (2008, July 9). Ocean wind power maps reveal possible wind energy sources. Accessed July 15, 2008.

    NASA image created by Jesse Allen, using data provided courtesy of Timothy Liu,
    Wenqing Tang, and Xiaosu Xie, NASA/JPL. Caption by Holli Riebeek.”

  7. Brendan says:

    I think there is one more piece to the wind puzzle that the government could do to truly boost wind power growth. One of the big inhibitors to wind energy in knowing where to put it. Before the placement of a wind turbine, a developer will want (ideally) years of data. If the US government could begin now a program to specifically get data from likely sites, it will increase development 5 years down the line. This program wouldn’t help the 2010 number, but it will help the 2015 number.

  8. Petaflop says:

    Comparing what county is leading in wind power installations makes no sense, when you ignore the number of inhabitant of a country.

  9. Cyril R. says:

    If you really want a good overview and references regarding real studies of wind integration in electric grids, see this page:

    I’d particularly recommend the Decarolis thesis:

    Things are looking good for wind.