Climate

These New Giant Wind Turbines Could Dramatically Change Energy Production In The U.S.

CREDIT: Dennis Schroeder/NREL

Since 1980, wind energy costs have fallen by more than a factor of 20 in some regions of the country — going from more than 55 cents per kilowatt-hour to less than 2.5 cents/kWh.

A new report from the U.S. Department of Energy shows how advances in wind power technology and deployment will continue to make wind power cheaper and more accessible — and will make it possible to achieve at utility-scale levels in all 50 states by 2030.

The report, “Enabling Wind Power Nationwide,” shows how taller turbines that reach stronger winds high above the ground will be able to unlock previously untapped resources, primarily in the Southeastern U.S., where wind speeds tend to be lower. Announcing the report on Tuesday, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said that “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.”

According to the DOE, wind generation in the U.S. has tripled in the past six years, now exceeding 4.5 percent of the country’s total electricity generation, or around 65 gigawatts. Wind power has also spread to 39 states. The report highlights how a combination of technological advancements, improved siting practices, and taller turbines with larger rotors — the heart of the wind turbine that captures the wind and converts it to energy — will make the next generation of wind turbines more reliable and cost effective.

New map shows how taller wind turbines could help unlock wind's potential in all 50 states, especially in the southeastern U.S.

New map shows how taller wind turbines could help unlock wind’s potential in all 50 states, especially in the southeastern U.S.

CREDIT: National Renewable Energy Laboratory

“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 American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) CEO Tom 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 current standard height for most wind turbines is 80 meters, or 262 feet, however turbine heights of up to 120 meters, or 393 feet, are already common in parts of Europe. The Energy Department is working with wind turbine manufacturers to develop new turbines that stand 110 to 140 meters (360 to 459 feet) tall — as calculated from the center of the rotor — and have blades more than 60 meters (196 feet) long. Taller than the Statue of Liberty, the DOE estimates than even at the 110-meter height the potential for wind deployment in the U.S. increases by 54 percent, with it rising another 13 percent to 67 percent at the 140-meter height. This would open up an additional one-fifth of the land area in the U.S. for wind turbines, especially in the Southeast.

The report found that an increase in wind power production to provide 20 percent of the country’s electricity production by 2030 would provide an estimated annual benefit of $30 billion in 2030 from air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions reductions. The industry could also account for around 400,000 jobs by 2030 and provide billions of dollars annually in property tax payments.

“These benefits are observed to fully offset the expected costs to electricity consumers from increased wind deployment through 2020 and 2030 as existing plants retire and fossil fuel prices trend upward,” states the report.

This expansion of economical wind power could see the industry come to states like Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia — all of which currently lack commercial wind power.

“What’s so exciting to me about tall towers is the way it opens new regions for wind development,” Jacob Susman, CEO and Founder of OwnEnergy, a wind energy development company, said in a statement. “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.”