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WINDPOWER 2012: Southeast Location Reflects Manufacturing Strength im Windmesse Newsletter

Wind energy is an American success story, powering 35 percent of all new American electric generation in recent years and creating one of the country’s fastest growing manufacturing sectors. In an era of economic hardship, American wind power is a bright

The U.S. wind power industry showed strength in 2011 on several fronts. The industry continued to deepen its American manufacturing roots, with over 470 U.S.-based manufacturing facilities now serving the industry’s supply chain. Many of those jobs are in the Southeast, the region hosting the WINDPOWER 2012 Conference & Exhibition (June 3-4, Atlanta). The Southeast is home to over 90 manufacturing plants serving the wind power industry.

If you’ve been to WINDPOWER, you know that there’s no other event like it. With over 900 exhibitors and some 12,000 attendees expected, WINDPOWER has become known as the place to network and do business. Here’s a look at the wind power landscape as the industry gets set for its annual town square for information dissemination and doing business.

Robust activity

On the project development front, the industry built 6,816 megawatts (MW) in 2011—a 31 percent increase over the previous year’s 5,216 MW. Even more impressive: at the end of 2011, more than 8,300 MW of wind power were under construction, setting the stage for a strong 2012. As expected, the trend continued into 2012; 1,695 MW were installed in the first quarter with 788 additional turbines—largely made in the USA—producing clean, affordable, power in 17 states. Megawatts installed in the first quarter bring the total wind power capacity in the U.S. to 48,611 MW.

Under-construction numbers were also exceptionally strong in the first quarter, clocking in at 8,916 MW, with 2,284 of that total starting construction just this quarter. Also notable: construction is taking place in 31 states and Puerto Rico.

Thanks to those manufacturing and development numbers, the wind industry now employs about 75,000 people in the U.S. That’s good news for the industry, which is sharing those numbers with decision makers to ensure that stable, long-term policy is put in place, which would allow wind power to take root to an even greater degree.

“This shows what wind power is capable of: building new projects, powering local economies and creating jobs,” said Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association. “Traditional tax incentives are working. This tremendous activity is being driven by the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) – which has leveraged as much as $20 billion a year in private investment and supported tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs.”

As of 2011, Iowa and South Dakota are now at or near getting 20 percent of their electricity from wind power. That 20 percent milestone is within reach for the rest of the country. Wind power is on track to meeting 20 percent of America’s electricity needs and supporting 500,000 jobs by 2030.

The strong pace set by the American wind power industry is attributable to several factors, including state policy, and increasing cost competitiveness, but the biggest driver is the federal PTC. The PTC, which is performance-based (i.e., only awarded for kilowatt-hours that are generated), typically has been extended in only one- and two-year increments, causing a historical boom –bust cycle for the industry.

With the backing of the federal PTC, wind power has enjoyed tremendous success creating American jobs and providing an affordable source of electricity. Prices for turbines, which produce more power than ever, and capital costs have dropped sharply in recent years. And in addition to having no fuel costs, wind power has very low operating costs.

As a result, utilities know a good deal when they see one. Wind power provides long-term stability by allowing utilities to lock in prices for 20-30 years and insulating them and their ratepayers from volatile fossil fuel price shifts.

American Wind Power: Establishing Markets
While wind power is now a mainstream energy source, the industry begins 2012 with its key policy driver, the PTC, again shrouded in uncertainty. Nevertheless, the industry continues to work to meet robust orders for 2012, which, consistent with typical years of scheduled PTC expirations, is expected to be strong and finish significantly ahead of 2011’s 6,810 MW installed.

With the PTC typically extended in mere one- and two-year increments, the U.S. wind energy industry is already highly familiar with operating in a business environment characterized by short-term policy, so challenges faced in 2012 are hardly new ones. Still, with wind power now a key player on the energy landscape, the industry is actively working to establish a more consistent policy environment. And with the industry supply chain having become firmly rooted in the U.S., the industry is already feeling the effects of the policy uncertainty.

Thankfully, the PTC is a bipartisan issue, and an extension is not viewed as a matter of if but when. To urge Congress to take action, go to saveUSAwindjobs.com.

States continue to show leadership
A highlight for 2011 came in the spring, when California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law legislation that ups the state's renewable electricity standard from an already strong 20 percent to an historic 33 percent by 2020. The renewables standard includes near-term and incremental targets (20 percent by the end of 2013 and 25 percent by the end of 2016), an approach that the wind industry considers to be an important component of RES legislation because it allows the industry to begin ramping up and generating economic development immediately.

Iowa, meanwhile, achieved a major benchmark in 2011 that drew attention from the wind power observers across the country. The Hawkeye State now generates nearly 20 percent of its electricity from wind power, and it continues to build wind farms. Another payoff for the state: Over 200 wind-related businesses are now operating in 55 Iowa counties. South Dakota achieved the 20 percent milestone in 2011.

The U.S. wind industry’s 2011 results show that wind power is forging ahead into new states like Ohio and Nevada while doubling down on installations in existing strong wind markets in California, Illinois, Iowa and Kansas.

Illinois was a very strong performer in 2011, clocking in as No. 2 for installations in the last year with 692 MW installed. Kansas topped the under-construction list headed into 2012, with more than 1,188 MW of wind scheduled to come online in 2012. Ohio was another success story as the nation’s fastest growing state in wind power for 2011. Overall, 30 states brought wind projects online in 2011 and 2012 construction includes the first wind projects in Nevada, Connecticut and Puerto Rico.

WindMade Consumer label launched
As wind power advocates continued their work on getting long-term stable policy in place, a new concept took shape that promises to help foster a market for wind power on the demand side. 2011 marked the launch of WindMade™, a new consumer label that will highlight companies getting a large portion of their electricity from wind power. Already 15 companies—including such names as Motorola Mobility, Deutsche Bank, and Bloomberg—have committed to attaining the new label by getting at least 25 percent of their electricity from wind energy.

Offshore: Policymakers streamline as projects progress
The Obama Administration has said it will make it a priority to streamline processes for renewable energy projects requiring federal approvals, and such efforts were particularly evident on the offshore wind power front in 2011, when both the U.S. Departments of Energy (DOE) and Interior (DOI) made several important announcements.  The departments unveiled a coordinated strategic plan to pursue the deployment of 10 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind capacity by 2020 and 54 GW by 2030, and DOI announced the creation of high-priority "Wind Energy Areas" off the coasts of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. DOE also committed $43 million over the next five years to help speed technical innovations, drive down costs, and reduce market barriers such as supply chain development, transmission and infrastructure.

On the project side, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) approved Cape Wind project's construction and operations plan, bringing the offshore facility one step closer to becoming a reality.

There have already been a number of significant announcements in 2012.  DOI and BOEM announced the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the issuance of leases for site assessment activities for the Wind Energy Areas off the states of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. Furthermore, after this announcement, BOEM published Calls for Information and Nominations for the Wind Energy Areas off Maryland and Virginia as well as for an area off the coast of Massachusetts to solicit additional interest from developers and request public comments. Finally, BOEM announced the finalization of the form that it will use for the issuance of offshore wind energy leases. 

Growing supply chain

The more the supply chain is given a chance to take root, the more efficient it becomes. Today 60 percent of U.S.-deployed turbines’ content is built in America—a level that is all the more impressive when considering that domestic content was only 25 percent prior to 2005. The more than 470 U.S. plants serving the American wind power industry today are located in every region of the country.

As a result, more efficient U.S.-based manufacturing is saving on transportation, while technology improvements are resulting in turbines that generate more power. Because of performance improvements over the years, a turbine with a nameplate capacity seven times larger than a typical turbine in 1990 can produce 15 times more electricity.

Wind turbine prices have dropped sharply in recent years, and a government report released in 2011 highlights that trend with some telling numbers. According to the U.S. Department of Energy's "Wind Technologies Market Report," turbine prices decreased by as much as 33 percent or more between late 2008 and 2010.

Importantly, the report also found that the amount of land that can support 35 percent-plus capacity factors has increased by between 130 percent and 270 percent since 2002-2003, thanks to improvements in turbine technology, the report found.

The result is that utilities are getting locked-in prices at lower rates. In 2011, Alabama Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, made its first wind power purchase. In signing off on the contract, the state Public Service Commission noted that the “price of energy from the wind facility is expected to be lower than the cost the company would incur to produce that energy from its own resource … with the resulting energy savings flowing directly to the Company’s customers.”

In Colorado just a few months later, in an order approving a wind power purchase by Xcel Energy, the state Public Utilities Commission stated that “the contract will save ratepayers $100 million on a net-present-value basis over its 25-year term under a base-case natural gas price scenario” while providing the opportunity to “lock in a price for 25 years.”

And as 2012 got under way, American Electric Power subsidiary Southwestern Electric Power Co. (SWEPCO), which serves Louisiana, signed long-term power purchase agreements for a total of 358.65 MW from wind projects in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. SWEPCO said in a news release that it estimated an average decrease in cost to its customers of about 0.1 cents per kilowatt-hour over a10-year period starting in 2013.

On track to 20 percent
The United States boasts the perfect combination of massive electricity demand and a world-class wind resource. The onshore wind power potential to be tapped is nothing short of amazing: 37 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually—equivalent to nearly 10 times the country’s existing power needs.

Wind energy is already helping the nation meet America’s electricity demand by powering the equivalent of over 12 million homes. Today’s wind farms produce enough electricity to power the states of Virginia, Oklahoma or Tennessee in their entirety. In addition to the previously mentioned high wind penetrations in Iowa and South Dakota, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oregon, Colorado and Kansas all receive more than 5 percent of their electricity from wind.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy report, “20 percent Wind Energy by 2030: Increasing Wind Energy’s Contribution to U.S. Electricity Supply,” wind can play a major role in meeting America’s electricity demand, while providing a clean alternative to other polluting generation sources. The report states that generating 20 percent of the nation’s electricity from wind power is feasible and achievable—with today’s technology. The U.S. wind industry is well on pace to achieve 20 percent wind power by 2030.

The report found that installing more wind power would foster rural economic development, job creation and energy price stability (by sidestepping fossil-fuel price volatility in addition to easing the pressure on natural gas prices). Wind power can reduce carbon-dioxide emissions as well as hold down energy prices, while creating hundreds of thousands of new domestic jobs.

Connecting supply to demand
To continue capitalizing on its abundant domestic energy resources, America needs to reinvest in its electric grid. A number of recent studies have concluded that the consumer energy savings realized from building transmission would be significantly greater than the costs of the initial infrastructure investment—meaning that on net, consumers would see their electric bills decrease if a major reinvestment in the grid became a national policy focus.

To make new transmission build-out a reality, allowing for the movement of renewable resources to densely populated areas, better interconnection-wide (regional) planning is needed. AWEA and the wind industry are hard at work to make such reforms a reality, and progress is being made. For example, in July 2011, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission clarified how needed transmission lines are to be planned and paid for. The agency's new policy requires transmission providers to file regional plans for transmission lines that ensure that consumers who do not benefit do not pay, and conversely, those who do benefit do pay. FERC has clear authority and responsibility to decide fair cost allocation. Plans must also account for public policy goals set by state or federal laws or regulations, placing renewable energy laws on par with the goals of increasing reliability and curbing power congestion.

Environmental steward
With no fuel (except the wind) and no emissions, wind power is a leader in protecting the environment of the United States and the health of Americans. Better still, the clean and affordable energy source leaves a far smaller footprint than other more traditional forms of energy.

Beyond the built-in advantage of this virtually emission-free product, the wind power industry continues to focus on environmental performance and minimizing its already negligible environmental impacts. It is the least harmful form of electricity generation and it increasingly displaces emissions of carbon, air toxins, and other pollutants from fossil fuels that threaten wildlife and the natural environment. The industry continues to collaborate with the conservation community and federal siting agencies to find ways to reduce minimal avian and bat impacts. Thanks to significant progress made in 2011 on one particular initiative, a new set of wind energy wildlife guidelines—soon to be issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service following a three-plus year, multi-stakeholder process that involved wind industry members working closely with the Service, conservation community, state agencies, among others—will simultaneously bring greater certainty to the wind energy siting process and serve to further reduce the industry’s comparatively low wildlife impacts.

Conferences and seminars reflective of large-scale, dynamic industry
One indicator of how American wind power has become a mainstream energy source is AWEA’s annual WINDPOWER Conference & Exhibition. For more information about WINDPOWER, go to www.windpowerexpo.org.

Reflecting the industry’s growth and complexity, AWEA now hosts a slew of other seminars and conferences throughout the country on such key issues as siting, offshore wind power, small wind, the manufacturing supply chain, resource assessment and health & safety. One other trend to watch on the conference front that’s indicative of an evolving industry: In the spring of 2012, the AWEA Regional Wind Energy Summit – Midwest marked the start of the trade association offering regionally focused wind energy events to better meet the industry’s ever-growing educational and networking needs. Upcoming regional events include ones for New England (Sept. 5-6, Portland, Maine) and the Southwest (Dec. 5-6, Houston). (For all information on all AWEA events, go to www.awea.org/events.)
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