Must read: Bush DOE says wind can be 20% of U.S. power by 2030 — with no breakthroughs

The Bush administration has signed off on a stunning new report, “20% Wind Energy by 2030: Increasing Wind Energy’s Contribution to U.S. Electricity Supply.”

I am working on a big wind article for mid-week, but here are the key conclusions of what is easily the most comprehensive and credible report released on windpower in a decade:

  • Annual installations need to increase by only a factor of three from current levels by 2018.
  • 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 about 15 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? Well, not surprisingly, the Bush administration does not discuss the needed policies, since the three most obvious are

  1. Continuing the production tax credit for wind
  2. A 20% (or higher) renewable electricity standard for utilities.
  3. A cap and trade system that results in a significant price for carbon.

The Administration’s view of these three policies range from disinterest to outright opposition. So this report does highlight the disconnect between the amazing clean energy future within our grasp that even the Bush administration is forced to acknowledge — and the simple and relatively inexpensive government policies that the administration just can’t stomach. It is worth noting that you don’t need all three policies simultaneously. We should have the first two in place now lasting until carbon dioxide is, say, $30 a ton.

Fortunately, the next election will allow us to replace Bush with someone who supports all three of those policies (Hint — it’s not the guy who gave a climate speech today).

Finally, at the DOE press conference today, which I listened to over the phone, Andy Karsner, DOE Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy — an incredibly enthusiastic champion of clean tech who, sadly, was appointed far too late in the administration to have an impact — said that the 20% wind penetration could be accomplished with “no technology breakthroughs” for wind power.

And when Karsner was asked about scale of the effort, especially in regard to building power plants far from where people lived, he pointed out the country had already done this once, when it built all those hydropower plants decades ago. At the time, not many people lived near Hoover dam.

For more information

  • The DOE press release is here
  • The American Wind Energy Association release is here
  • A discussion of windpower’s place in the effort to stabilize at 450 ppm CO2 is here.