A mighty wind: Feds want wind power to generate 20% of US electricity by 2030

Can the US really produce 20% of its electricity through wind farms?

The Department of Energy (DOE) thinks so and today issued what it called a first-of-its kind report that examines the technical feasibility of harnessing wind power to provide up to 20% of the nation’s total electricity needs by 2030. 

The report,   “20 Percent Wind Energy by 2030,” identifies requirements to achieve this goal including reducing the cost of wind technologies, citing new transmission infrastructure, and enhancing domestic manufacturing capability.  The report identifies opportunities for 7.6 cumulative gigatons of CO2 to be avoided by 2030, saving 825 million metric tons in 2030 and every year thereafter if wind energy achieves 20% of the nation’s electricity mix. 

The DOE said that reaching 20% wind energy will require enhanced transmission infrastructure, streamlined siting and permitting regimes, 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 from approximately 2000 in 2006 to almost 7000 in 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.

·          Transmission challenges need to be addressed.  Issues related to siting and cost allocation of new transmission lines to access the Nation’s best wind resources will need to be resolved in order to achieve 20% wind. 

The US leads the world in new wind installations and has the potential to be the world leader in total wind capacity by 2010, DOE’s report states. Last year, U.S. cumulative wind energy capacity reached 16,818 megawatts (MW) – with more than 5,000 MW of wind installed in 2007.  Wind contributed to more than 30% of the new US generation capacity in 2007, making it the second largest source of new power generation in the nation --- surpassed only by natural gas.  

The US wind energy industry invested approximately $9 billion in new generating capacity in 2007, and has experienced a 30% annual growth rate in the last 5 years, the DOE stated.

Critics note that the DOE doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to developing advanced energy technology.  A recent the Government Accountability Office report said while wind energy has grown in recent years, from about 1,800 megawatts in 1996 to over 16,800 megawatts in 2007, the wind industry still faces investors’ concerns about high up-front capital costs, including connecting the wind farms to the power transmission grid.

The GAO said DOE R&D efforts are focused on more immediate expansion of the wind industry, particularly on utility-scale wind turbines.  One of DOE’s targets is to increase the number of distributed wind turbines deployed in the United States from 2,400 in 2007 to 12,000 in 2015.

Many states are already moving toward wind and solar power. One of the more interesting projects, announced in March, was that  Allco Renewable Energy Group signed a letter of intent to develop a $45 million solar energy farm on what was a pig farm that literally exploded in 1977 and became Rhode Island’s first Superfund site.  The 100-acre site would be filled with of hundreds of 3-feet by 5-feet solar panels that would each sit on a motorized based to keep them facing the sun. The farm could generate up to 8 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 7,200 homes, making it the largest solar energy project east of the Mississippi. Allco in November proposed to build a 338 wind turbine farm off the coast of Rhode Island, but that project is on hold as state regulators argue over whether or not they will permit off-shore wind farms.   Allco is developing wind projects in California, New Zealand and Australia. 

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