The AWEA Recently announced that in November of 2015, the United States reached the 70 gigawatts production milestone for the first time in its history. This is great news for an industry that had plateaued over the last couple years with the uncertainty created by the government and clean energy tax credits. The 50 and 60 gigawatt levels were achieved back in 2012. 2013 proved to be slower year for new wind energy projects, but that has changed in 2014, with over 8.3 billion dollars invested.
Better Times Ahead
The momentum for 2015 and beyond is increasing for many reasons. The first is the extensions of the Production Tax Credit and alternate Investment Tax Credit by Congress, which gives stability and predictability to the industry through at least 2019. These credits make new wind energy projects more affordable, encouraging investment.
Another big reason is that wind energy prices have reached all time lows. In order to be competitive in the energy market, wind energy has to make financial sense for the organizations buying and investing in energy. With wind energy prices the lowest they have ever been, they are very competitive economically on the market.
More Progress to be Made
While 70 gigawatts of energy production is a great milestone for a budding industry, there is still a long way to go before wind energy is a viable alternative for U.S. residents. At this point, energy produced by wind makes up only 5% of total U.S. energy consumption – meaning there is still great long-term potential for increases in wind energy production.
In a surprising bit of news this week, the United States Congress has extended the Renewable Energy Tax Credit through 2021. Officially called the Investment Tax Credit (ITC), these credits were set to expire at the end of 2016, at which point the 30% tax credit would drop down to 10%. This looming deadline had been creating a lot of uncertainty in the solar and wind industries as companies rushed to complete as many projects as possible before the deadline. This extension adds some much needed stability to a growing industry.
Recently the Scottish Government announced its latest plans to harness the great power potential of the wind around the United Kingdom. Scotland plans to build the world’s largest floating wind farm off the coast of Peterhead, which will harness an impressive 135 Gigawatt hours of electricity per year. This work will be completed by Norway’s Statoil, and will make it the largest floating wind farm on earth! Why are floating wind farms gaining popularity? Because of their cheaper installation and maintenance costs, while still harnessing immense amounts of wind power.
In the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that crippled the country’s nuclear power plants, Japan has decided to go in a completely different direction with its energy policy.
This July, construction will begin on what will become the world’s largest offshore wind farm. The farm will consist of 143 wind turbines, which in total will generate 1 gigawatt of renewable power for the country. Construction is expected to be completed by the year 2020. This farm will be located 16 kilometers off of the coast of Fukushima, which is home to the widely publicized Daiichi nuclear reactor. This reactor was badly damaged during the tsunami, and is still not functional today.
The tsunami of 2011 forced the shutdown of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors. To date, only two have resumed operations.
As everyone in the United States is aware, Congress recently passed a bill to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff”, a situation in which steep automatic spending cuts and tax hikes would have taken place January first. While the bill is a short-term measure in regards to these main objectives, the deal also had a lot of other legislation packed into it. One of these things is of particular interest to the Wind Energy sector, the Production Tax Credit.
The Production Tax Credit (PTC) is a huge money saver for Wind Energy companies. It allows them to invest in new wind farms and add wind turbines all across the country for a fraction of the price it would otherwise cost. When the PTC has been in place in previous years, the wind energy industry saw some of it’s biggest gains in capacity and productivity.
Last week, Cartier Wind Energy announced the Gros-Morne Phase II wind project is now operational. Why is this a big deal? Now that phase II is complete, the Gros-Morne wind farm is the largest in Canada, a country that is one of the world leaders in wind energy. This project was awarded by the province of Québec as part of an effort to reach 1,000 Megawatts of new wind power capacity by the end of 2012. The Gros-Morne wind farm alone will now generate 211.5 Megawatts, and can power up to 20,000 residences.
Québec is set to award more contracts in 2013, in an effort to add another 700 Megawatts of capacity. In all, Canada is on pace to double their total wind capacity by the year 2014 – up to 10 Gigawatts of energy production.
When most people think about jobs in wind energy, they think of technicians and engineers, hundreds of feet in the air working on giant windmills. While these types of jobs are out there and are certainly a very good career option, there are other ways to enter the field of wind energy without climbing these gigantic turbines. One of those ways is to work in a wind turbine monitoring station. These stations are often called Remote Operations Centers (ROCs for short), and they are the brains behind these giant wind farms.
In a typical ROC, you will find dozens of technicians monitoring the data output from thousands of wind turbines. This data is collected real-time, and is used to analyze everything going on with each individual turbine. The overall goals of the ROC are twofold. The first is to keep wind turbines running efficiently as possible, so that the investment made into the turbine is maximized, along with the amount of power generated. The second is to identify any potential issues with the turbines before they become more significant, which can result in an outage. Companies like General Electric, which built about half of the turbines in the United States today, do everything they can to keep their turbine fleet at 98% capacity or higher. Preventing breakdowns before they happen is a huge part of this.
Today the Obama administration announced an agreement that would speed up approval and help expedite the construction of offshore wind turbines across the Great Lakes region. This new, faster regulatory review aims to quicken the pace of offshore wind farm development without sacrificing safety and environmental concerns, which are always of the utmost importance when new wind farm locations are assessed. Five of the states surrounding the Great Lakes region have already signed the agreement – Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York and Pennsylvania. The other states in the region – Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin – have not signed the agreement but still could at a later time.
The agreement is not a simple one. More than ten federal agencies are involved, including the Pentagon, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Any new construction would also have to be approved by the federal government and the state in which the wind turbine resides, since states own the land beneath the Great Lakes up to the international border with Canada. This deal is not unprecedented, however. A similar deal was struck to facilitate construction of offshore wind turbines across the Atlantic coast, so there is good reason to believe these Great Lakes projects will happen at some point.