Regular readers will recognize this space as a forum to discuss the issues confronting the wind industry: Last month’s open letter to the board of directors at the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) serves as the latest example. However, this month’s column serves a different purpose.
By now, you know that AWEA reported that the U.S. wind industry installed more than 13 GW of capacity in 2012, eclipsing the previous record of 10 GW in 2009. In the fourth quarter alone, a whopping 101 projects – representing more than 8.3 GW of installed capacity – were grid connected.
Further, last year, the U.S. wind industry pushed its cumulative installed base past 60 GW. How impressive is that achievement? Consider that it took more than two decades to reach 10 GW (in 2006) and then only two additional years to reach 20 GW (in 2008). In 2010, the U.S. wind industry achieved 40 GW. Then, last year, the U.S. wind industry hit both the 50 GW and 60 GW milestones.
Despite the impressive totals, however, there are a few data points contained in AWEA’s report that warrant special attention.
For the first time, wind energy became the No. 1 source of new U.S. electric generating capacity, providing 42% of all new generating capacity.
AWEA also reported a rise in the number of wind turbines sited at industrial facilities, with at least 18 companies bringing wind turbines online that were either company-owned or under contract. Granted, the overall number of industrial off-takers is not significant. At least, not yet. But if the production tax credit (PTC) is allowed to expire – as is being discussed – the wind industry will need more corporations to embrace wind energy, following the lead set by the likes of Google and Wal-Mart.
Such numbers speak to the ingenuity and creativity of the entire supply chain. When wind developers needed to rely on their supply-chain partners to finish projects to beat the looming PTC deadline, the consultants, contractors and manufacturers came through more often than not.
The 2012 numbers are worth celebrating. Let the challenges – and there are many – sit for a moment. Sometimes it is necessary to step back and reflect on such an accomplishment. So take a bow, U.S. wind industry – and then get back to work!