What are the biggest barriers to developing wind energy?

Workforce, education, red tape biggest barriers to wind energy future

The Department of Energy this week said it is looking for the public to help identify the most significant barriers to future wind energy development. 

In addition the agency said it is looking for ideas that will help the US grow and educate its wind energy workforce.  While other US energy industries have extensive training infrastructures in place, minimal infrastructure currently exists for the wind industry. Many companies are struggling to find individuals with experience in wind technologies, the DOE stated. 

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In the end the DOE said it is looking to build the next iteration of its wind industry roadmap which will outline key directions and ideas for bolstering the wind energy industry.  The current draft of the roadmap can be found here.

 According to the DOE, the wind industry may require a potential workforce of 200,000 people by the year 2030, compared to 85,000 current wind-related jobs.

Based on that report, approximately 16 GW of installed capacity will be added per year by the end of this decade with an annual average employment need of:

  • 47,000 construction-related jobs
  • 22,300 manufacturing-related jobs
  • 3,600 other sector jobs related to construction
  • 66,000 jobs related to project development; e.g., bankers, attorneys, engineers

In 2008, the US wind industry installed approximately 8.4 GW and employed an estimated 85,000 people, according to the American Wind Energy Association. The US wind industry installed nearly 10 GW in 2009, maintaining a workforce of about 85,000. 

The DOE has been on a full-court press with wind energy development.  Last month it announced its Wind Program which is looking to hone in on what the agency calls specific advanced technology, gigawatt-scale demonstration projects " that can be carried out by partnerships with a wide range of eligible organizations and stimulate of cost-effective offshore wind energy deployment in coastal and Great Lakes regions of the country.

In addition the agency recently announced it would offer $6 million in contracts to improve short-term wind energy forecasting. The funding will support projects that enhance the ability of utilities and electricity grid operators to forecast when and where generation from wind power will take place, allowing for improved utility operations.

In May it said it would spend another $6 million to advance midsize wind turbine technology in order to boost the speed and scale of midsize turbine deployment. The agency said it will provide the funding over two years to accelerate the development, testing, and commercialization of domestically manufactured, midsize wind turbines with rated generating capacities between 100 kilowatts and 1 megawatt.

The DOE said that reaching its goal of 20% wind energy by 2030 will require enhanced transmission infrastructure, streamlined siting and permitting, improved reliability and operability of wind systems, and increased U.S. wind manufacturing capacity.  For such a plan to succeed the DOE said a number of goals must be attained, including:

  • Annual installations need to increase more than threefold. Achieving 20% wind will require the number of annual turbine installations to increase to approximately 7000 by 2017.
  • Costs of integrating intermittent wind power into the grid are modest. 20% 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% wind is not limited by the availability of raw materials.

 Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8   

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