Wind Power: Driving the U.S. Towards a More Sustainable Future

Trevor Green
Renewable energy development in the U.S. has been motivated by a mix of federal- and state-level fiscal and regulatory policies. Wind power is becoming a significant part of the diverse U.S. energy portfolio. At state level, renewable energy standards (RES), also known as renewable portfolio standards, have become increasingly popular. Over 50% of states and the District of Columbia have an RES on the books. Another five states have renewable energy goals that are not mandatory.

In October 2010 a bipartisan group of senators proposed a national renewable electricity standard bill, calling for congress to show long-term commitment to renewable energy. If the bill becomes law, state utilities would be required to generate a target minimum of 15% of their total energy output from renewable sources by 2021.

The market

According to the Department of Energy (DOE) Wind Technologies Market Report 2009 (PDF 1.9 MB),  the U.S. was one of the world's fastest growing wind power markets in 2009, second only to China.  

2010 experienced a slight slowdown, given the combination of the economic crisis, lower wholesale electricity prices, and improved energy conservation resulting in lower demand for energy generally.

Most predictions show market resurgence in 2011 and 2012, as programs funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act mature and as financing constraints ease.

To date, all wind power installations in the U.S. have been located on land. However offshore technology represents a major opportunity, as outlined in the DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) October 2010 publication Large-Scale Offshore Wind Power in the United States: Assessment of Opportunities and Barriers (PDF 6.9 MB).   

The potential

By 2012, the U.S. is likely to have its first offshore wind power plant and several more projects are planned. The NREL report finds that harnessing even a fraction of the nation's potential offshore wind resource, estimated to be more than 4,000 gigawatts, would have many advantages including:

  • creating thousands of jobs

  • helping revitalize America's manufacturing sector

  • reducing greenhouse gas emissions

  • diversifying U.S. energy supplies

  • providing cost-competitive electricity to key coastal regions

Challenges

  • technology

  • materials

  • infrastructure

  • logistics

  • supply chain management

  • long build times.

Driving down the costs will also be a major challenge. Even though the cost of wind power has decreased dramatically in the past ten years, the technology requires a higher initial investment than fossil-fueled generators.

  • Wind farms are often sited in remote locations and transmission lines must be built to deliver the electricity.

  • Wind resource development may compete with other uses for the land and those alternative uses may be more highly valued than electricity generation.

Faithful+Gould has many years' experience of supporting clients in the energy sector. We are now successfully transferring many of our skills into the renewables market, including support to various hydro and wind renewable energy projects for Puget Sound Energy.