August of 2006 will
go into the history books as the month the U.S. wind industry reached
numbers that can be described as not just big, but truly large. By
adding another zero to total capacity, by moving from four figures to
five, wind has asserted itself again as a serious player in the
electric generation mix.
The U.S. now has more than 10,000 MW of
capacity, which more than doubles the number of megawatts available for
wind generation in a little over three years. And at its current rate
of growth, wind generation in the U.S. could expand by another 10,000
MW in a little over three years.
"Wind energy is providing new electricity
supplies that work for our country's economy, environment and energy
security," says American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) Executive
Director Randall Swisher. "With its current performance, wind energy is
demonstrating that it could rapidly become an important part of the
nation's power portfolio."
While it can be said the modern wind
industry was built in the U.S., the 10,000 MW milestone was reached
much more quickly by two European countries that entered the
utility-scale generation sphere several years later.
The U.S. had its first utility-scale
generation built in 1980 and didn't pass the 1,000 MW threshold until
1986. More than a decade later, U.S. wind capacity reached 2,000 MW in
Germany entered the utility-scale arena in
1987 and passed 1,000 MW in 1995, and its use of the generation source
skyrocketed after 1999.
Wind as an energy source in Germany passed
4,000 MW in 1999, 6,000 MW in 2000 and 8,700 MW in 2001. It jumped to
12,000 MW in 2002 and has climbed by a couple thousand megawatts every
year since, to more than 18,000 MW in 2005.
The country is, by far, the world leader
and has been since 1997, when it passed the U.S. Annual growth has
slowed recently, but it remains about 8,000 MW ahead of the number two
Spain began its utility-scale wind
development in 1991. It grew by the tens and hundreds of megawatts for
several years, breaking through the 1,500 MW barrier by 1999. It has
added capacity of about 1,000 MW to 2,000 MW yearly since. Spain and
the U.S. were virtually tied at about 2,000 MW in 2000 as the U.S.
industry's growth slowed.
Spain passed the U.S. in 2005, when it reached 10,000 MW.
Public support and feed-in tariffs have been crucial in the development
of the energy source in Europe.
But Spain's ranking could be short-lived if
current growth trends continue.
While the U.S. wind industry only grew incrementally in its first two
decades, it has exploded recently.
AWEA points out that the industry is
installing more wind power (3,000 MW) in a single year than the amount
that operated in the entire U.S. in 2000.
The record growth in wind power has been
made possible by a more stable policy environment and public concerns
about energy supply stability.
The federal production tax credit was
extended in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Previously, the credit had
been allowed to expire three times in seven years, discouraging
investment. The popular credit is set to expire at the end of 2007.
As the second-largest source of new power
generation, wind was surpassed only by natural gas in 2005. That
scenario is likely to repeat itself in 2006, according to the U.S.
Energy Information Administration.
India, which had virtually no wind industry
in 1990, has vaulted ahead of the pioneering country of Denmark in the
past year. It is now in fourth place, with more than 4,400 MW of
generating capacity. Denmark rounded out the top five in 2005, with a
little more than 3,100 MW of installed capacity.
And China has entered the wind energy
space, with aggressive pursuit of international equipment vendors
setting up shop within its borders. The Chinese government has a target
of 20,000 MW of wind generation capacity by 2020. The country registers
quite low in many statistical rankings, with less than 1,000 MW of
capacity out of a worldwide output of 60,000 MW.
All figures quoted in this article were
compiled by the Earth Policy Institute.