Wind Energy in the United States

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In 2018, a greater demand for renewable energy is encountered. Renewable energy sources are desirable as they do not have a finite limit or can be recycled, unlike fossil fuels. The main source of energy that has been used since the Industrial Revolution has been the burning of fossil fuels, which produces greenhouse gases.

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The emission of greenhouse gases has played a major part in human-caused climate change. As our energy demand grows and our climate continues to change rapidly, an increased importance is placed upon the need for new/more efficient technology, as well as an increase in the amount of renewable energy being produced. In this paper, the value of wind as a renewable energy source is explored.

Harnessing wind energy is not new to humans. Many ancient cultures were known to utilize wind power in some form or another. Windmills and turbines that produce energy have been in use since the 1800’s (Ehrlich, 2017). The technology had slowly been improved upon, until the first large wind farms in the U.S. were installed in the 1980’s (Kaldellis, 2011). Today, wind farms are seen across the entire country and in offshore sites. Wind energy is predicted to grow in the U.S., as the government released in a statement made in 2008 that wind would account for 20% of the country’s energy use (DOE, 2008).

Wind energy has several advantages. First, wind power is extremely cost-effective. Land-based utility-scale wind is one of the lowest-priced energy sources available. The production of wind energy is cost-free as it does not require fuel as the burning of fossil fuels or some other renewable energy sources do. Wind is also a domestic source of sustainable energy, as each region has an abundant and inexhaustible supply (Ehrlich, 2017). The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) states that over the past 10 years in the U.S., wind power capacity increased over 30%. Wind now has the largest renewable generation capacity of all renewable energy sources in the U.S (2018).

Wind is increasing more rapidly than any other renewable energy resource. Government support has made some of the expansion possible, but its principal attraction is wind power’s inherent environmental attributes (Pasqualetti, 2010). Wind energy is a completely clean fuel source. It doesn’t pollute the air like power plants that rely on combustion of fossil fuels. Coal or natural gas use emits greenhouse gases, like nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, that can lead to human health problems.

Downsides to this technology include changes to the environment around a wind farm. Initially, the wind farm will alter temperatures in the surrounding area and downwind of the farm. Overtime, however, the temperature change will be less drastic than the change that would have been expected from global warming. Bird deaths are also a side effect of wind farms. Environmental agencies advocate for the birds’ safety, but the number of bird deaths caused by wind farms are a small fraction of the total number of deaths caused by humans overall (Ehrlich, 2017). Some opposers to wind energy become upset with environmental changes, but not because of degradation to the land. Not in My Backyard (NIMBY) is a phrase used to describe person who will support an issue so long as it does not affect his or her day to day life in a seemingly negative way. Complaints from the public of aesthetic pollution keep wind turbine production down in populated areas. This is seen locally, where residents do not want to surrender their views to wind turbines.

Wind technology requires a high initial start-up cost (Ehrlich, 2017). Though becoming less expensive with the introduction of new technologies, it is still more costly to purchase than the technology required for fossil fuel combustion. Where fossil fuel combustion can occur anywhere, the production and storage of wind energy is often forced into remote locations, where there is adequate land for a large wind farm. While wind is plentiful here, energy demand is low. Transferring energy to places with higher demand would require high voltage, expensive power lines. Wind is a variable energy source; it is always not readily available like other sources. Energy storage then becomes necessary, where power is produced and held for future use. Storing energy is costly, but it allows for utilization of energy during peak demand times.

The main goal of wind turbine technology advancements is to increase efficiency and to reduce costs. The method that solves these issues is improving the energy capacity factors of wind turbines. This is one of the driving forces behind the size increase seen in turbines over the years with the other being increased level of wind availability the taller a turbine is. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, rotor diameters were under 20 meters wide. Modern turbines have diameters of 150 meters or more, with predictions of turbines being 250 meters in offshore farms (Ehrlich, 2017). The bigger the rotor, the more energy can be produced. With bigger rotors comes a whole new set of problems. The increase in stresses that a bigger rotor places on the wind turbine requires advancements in the technology’s control system. Control system and gearbox improvements have led to greater turbine reliability (Power-Gen, 2014).

To combat the supposed unaesthetically pleasing nature of wind turbines and the inability to supply wind produced energy to populated areas, cities around the world have invested in building-integrated wind turbines (Ehrlich, 2017). The wind turbine becomes part of the architecture and supplies power to the building. Initial building cost is high, but profit is possible as seen in Bahrain World Trade Center. There, the turbines produce 10-15% of the building’s energy need for less than 5% of the overall cost of the building. New buildings with integrated wind turbines are designed to maximize the wind’s power production. However, turbines added to preexisting buildings (on rooftops) can be manipulated to increase production as well, such as angling the blade downward to catch updraft from the building.

The population of the United States makes up 5% of the global population, yet the country consumes 24% of global energy (EIA, 2017). The energy demand in the U.S. is comparatively higher than other nations (excluding China) and is projected to increase. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2017 saw a record high of renewable energy production, around 11 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) equal to 12.6% of the country’s overall energy production (2018). The total primary energy consumption in the U.S. for the same year was 97.7 quadrillion Btu. There are several states in the U.S. with wind classes of 3 and above (suitable for wind energy production) that have the combined potential to produce up to 80% of the country’s consumption (Elliot, 1993). This estimate excludes areas that are unsuitable for wind farms, such as parks or wetlands. The U.S. Department of Energy’s 2008 report 20% Wind Energy by 2030 predicted that wind power could supply 20% of all U.S. electric power, with the assumption that reliability and capacity factor technologies of turbines continued to improve. With the continued decrease in wind technology cost, it is likely that wind energy production will continue to expand, but without push from the public and the government, it is unlikely that potential for wind energy will be met in a timely manner.

The federal government uses subsidies and incentives to stimulate utilization of renewable energy technologies. As with all energy projects, federal, state, local, and utility financial incentives are available for wind projects. Governmental financing of projects is an integral part of the successful implementation of utility-scale wind energy. Some wind-specific incentives the U.S. has used in the past include Production and Investment Tax Credits (PTC and ITC). Originally enacted in the Energy Policy Act of 1992, PTC is a production-based tax credit implemented to level the playing field between wind energy and the incentives provided to other energy sources. ITC provides a credit for investment costs at the start of a new wind project (Kaldellis, 2011). The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA or the Recovery Act) allowed wind projects to receive a cash grant of 30% of a project’s capital costs instead of taking the PTC or ITC. The Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 provided a 50% first-year depreciation cost provision for projects built between 2008 and 2010. The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 extended the 50% bonus to projects through December 31, 2013 (Zafarikis et al, 2013).

The People’s Republic of China is the world’s leading producer of wind energy. 34% of global production occurs in China. China is also the top consumer of energy, with an estimated exponential growth in future energy demand (Ehrlich, 2017). It is imperative for China’s economy to use sustainable energy sources that can fulfill the country’s colossal need. Coal still makes up the largest part of China’s energy consumption but that is changing, and quicker than anticipated. China is on track to install the addition of 110.4 GW of onshore wind capacity to China’s existing capacity (264 GW total) over the next three years, meaning that it would surpass the original target of 210 GW set during the 2016-2020 Five-Year Plan period. China is also predicted to have an offshore wind capacity of 26 GW by 2026 (Froese, 2017). China’s aggressive push for clean, sustainable, affordable energy could possibly be influential enough to affect change throughout the world.

The Stone Age did not end because humans ran out of stones; instead mankind transitioned to more effective and advanced solutions. The same opportunity is present in 2018 with energy efficiency and clean energy. The cost of the electricity produced from the clean energy source of wind by increasingly advanced turbines is competitive with conventional sources of energy, including fossil fuels. It is possible that without government involvement, it would take nearly half a century to reach combined renewable energy potential and energy goals set within the U.S. This is not quick enough to deal with issues concerning climate change. A growing interest in wind energy from the scientific, financial and public-policy communities, as well as the general public, is the only way to accelerate the transition to affordable, sustainable energy that will offer energy security and mitigate climate change.

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