Wind Power 2002

By Gray, Tom | The World and I, June 2002 | Go to article overview
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Wind Power 2002

Gray, Tom, The World and I

The forces of technological advance, society's needs, and environmental concerns have converged to spotlight the industry that captures energy from air currents sweeping across Earth's surface.

The year 2001 was a remarkable one for the U.S. wind energy industry. A total of 1,695 megawatts (MW) of new wind power plants was installed nationwide. That total consists of enough new wind turbines to supply the needs of 475,000 average American households. It is also more than double the previous record of new wind energy installed in a single year (732 MW in 1999).

In the state of Texas alone, more new wind plants (915 MW) were built in 2001 than had ever been installed in the entire United States in a previous year. The surprising Texas achievement resulted from a Renewables Portfolio Standard law passed in 1999 and signed into law by then-Gov. George W. Bush. The law requires that a certain minimum percentage of new power plants in the state be ones that rely on renewable energy (solar, biomass, wind, or geothermal). Texas' rich wind resources made wind energy a natural choice for priority development.

Following this record performance, installed wind-generating capacity in the United States now stands at 4,261 MW, or enough to supply more than one million homes.

America's record year was more than matched by a record year for Germany's wind industry as well, which installed 2,600 MW. The strong totals in both countries contributed to wind energy's peak year worldwide to date--approximately 6,500 MW were added around the globe, pushing installed capacity worldwide to a cumulative level of 24,000 MW. Germany ranks number 1 with 8,750 MW in place, followed by the United States, Spain (3,337 MW), Denmark (2,417 MW), and India (1,407 MW).

Although the global total of 24,000 MW is only enough to supply about six million homes--still relatively small potatoes in the world energy picture--it represents huge potatoes and a powerful momentum for wind energy. That total is the fruit of more than a decade during which wind has been the fastest-growing energy technology on a percentage basis, expanding at an annual rate of more than 25 percent.

The effect of a 25 percent growth rate is striking. Global wind capacity has more than tripled in the past four years. Goldman Sachs, a major investment house, projects that the industry will continue to grow at a rate of 20 percent through 2015. At that rate, it would reach 40,000 MW three years from now and 100,000 MW in 2010.

Windy business

The past several months have seen a series of business deals that strongly suggest major energy corporations are becoming more interested in wind.

* Shell WindEnergy, a division of the Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell Oil, now owns two wind farms in the United States.

* Entergy, a large American utility, recently bought a majority stake in the 80-MW Top of Iowa Wind Farm.

* TXU, a utility based in Texas that is already one of the largest purchasers of wind power in the United States, bought interests in two new wind projects in Spain.

* American Electric Power, another large utility that is positioning itself as a major player in the market, has developed a 150-MW wind farm and purchased another, both in Texas.

* PacifiCorp Power Marketing, a subsidiary of utility PacifiCorp, is purchasing and marketing power from three wind plants in the West, including the 261-MW Stateline Project, and has said it plans to add substantial wind capacity to its supply mix over the next few years.

The American Wind Energy Association believes that wind can provide 6 percent of all U.S. electricity, or nearly as much as hydroelectric power supplies today, by the year 2020.

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