F – The United States

The long-time leader in wind power world-wide is regaining its lead. For a large part of the 20th century, the US was the leader in the deployment in wind turbines for electricity generation. For most of this period, they were used primarily where grid electricity was not available. A relative late-comer, Germany, surpassed the US in 1997 and until 2007 was briefly the world leader. In 2008, with roughly equal installed capacity (MW), the US passed Germany in electricity production from wind (MWh). The US will undoubtedly soon pass Germany in both categories, as Germany must reduce its ongoing commitment to wind power.

 

What happened in Germany (and Denmark, which has not added wind capacity since 2003, for that matter)? See the other pages for each of those countries for details.

 

In the US, the use of wind turbines accelerated during the mid 70’s to the mid 80’s as part of government research and development activities, in response to the 70’s oil crisis. In the 80’s California provided incentives, which funded the first major use of wind power for utility electricity, and wind turbines started to be gathered in “wind parks”, or wind plants.

 

Texas has displaced California as having the largest wind power capacity installed in the US. This has been driven by government subsidies, as elsewhere, but in large part because Texas has a history of support for energy-related businesses. The Texas wind regime is not overly strong but there is a lot of land in areas where owners are open to offers of income, especially in West Texas. T. Boone Pickens plans the world’s largest wind plant (4,000 MW) there, but not on his lands. Further he states, “Don’t get the idea that I’ve turned green. My business is making money, and I think this is going to make a lot of money.”

 

To gain an appreciation about some of the misconceptions surrounding wind power, it is important to understand the distinction between capacity, electricity production and electricity used domestically. Here are recent numbers for these countries, with a comparison to Ontario.

 

Table 1 – Wind Power Capacity and Production

 

 

US

Germany

Denmark

Ontario

Installed Capacity

20,000 MW

23,000 MW

3,000 MW

400 MW

Capacity as a % of Total

1.8%

16%

24%

1.5%

Electricity Production as a % of Total

1%

5%

17%

0.8%

% Contribution to Domestic Consumption

1%

5%

6%

0.8%

 

The first thing to note is that the emerging world leader, and likely to remain that for the foreseeable future, the US, still has only about 1% of its electricity produced by wind. This is why it will remain the leader. 5 per cent of domestic consumption represents the upper range that an electricity system can withstand without compromising reliability.

 

Apart from reaching the practical limit of wind penetration, the high costs of wind power, particularly taking into account the shadowing backup and added grid costs, are a major limiting factor. Further, as countries start to accept the fact that wind does not reduce CO2 emissions (it can actually cause the total electricity system to produce more emissions), this will be a major factor in de-committing to industrial wind plants.

 

The low penetration of wind nationally in the US means that overall the effects are minimal as long as the implementations are fairly evenly spread out. Looking at the US more closely reveals regional problems that will inhibit development of industrial wind plants. The following table shows the history for the two states that are the leaders in wind power implementations.

 

Table 2 – Wind Power in the US

 

 

Texas

California

US Total

1999

180 MW

1,646 MW

2,500 MW

2000

181 MW

1,646 MW

2,566 MW

2001

1,096 MW

1,714 MW

4,261 MW

2002

1,096 MW

1,822 MW

4,685 MW

2003

1,293 MW

2,043 MW

6,374 MW

2004

1,293 MW

2,096 MW

6,740 MW

2005

1,995 MW

2,159 MW

9,149 MW

2006

2,793 MW

2,376 MW

11,575 MW

2007

4,296 MW

2,439 MW

16,596 MW

Capacity as a % of Total

4%

4%

1.8%

Electricity Production as a % of Total

2%

2%

1%

 

It is interesting to note that California, the initial leader, has slowed down and been overtaken by Texas in 2006, and that Texas has reached California’s penetration levels. A recently released report by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, “Texas Wind Energy: Past, Present and Future”, provides a realistic and cautionary approach to wind power. Their conclusion contains the following statement:

 

“However, Texas’ policymakers must thoroughly examine both the benefits and limitations of wind energy, particularly issues of reliability, transmission, and cost. As opposed to getting ahead of markets and technology, wind energy should be employed to the extent technologically feasible and economically worthwhile. Instead of subsidizing and incentivizing private wind development and imposing billions of dollars in new transmission costs upon retail electric customers, Texas’ policymakers should step back and allow the energy marketplace, free from government interference and subsidy, to bring wind power online when the market is ready.”

 

In this look at the world leaders in implementing industrial-scale wind power, a pattern emerges. Apart from a history of beneficial, small-scale, local implementations, there has been early enthusiasm for large wind plants, which wanes as wind production grows. As the 5 per cent of total electricity production level is exceeded, this is followed by a levelling of implementation, for example Denmark, and as it is approached there follows a slowing down with a growing awareness of problems, for example Germany, California and Texas.

 

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