EDITOR's NOTE: Wind will soon be producing power in all 50 states, according to a recent speech by Ernest Moniz, U.S. energy secretary. In response, The Energy Times asked a leader in the wind industry to reflect on this milestone and its meaning.
The United States is now the world's wind power generating leader. Powerful wind turbines supply 70 gigawatts of clean electricity, nearly five percent of total U.S. energy. That's tremendous progress, but we've just begun.
The promise of inexpensive, clean wind power cited by the recent U.S. Wind Vision report isn't some distant dream. It is a reality we are bringing to U.S. customers today. Fifty-eight percent — that's how much the real cost of wind energy dropped in the last five years. Wind is competing economically with all power sources, even natural gas, when comparing full project costs.
At the annual American Wind Energy Association conference last month, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz released a report saying wind could soon produce power in all 50 states. I was asked if the industry is prepared for such a dramatic expansion. My answer is simple. We are not only prepared, we are well on the way to achieving it.
The industry's goal is to double its share of U.S. energy to 10 percent by 2020 and again to 20 percent by 2030. To get there, we need to do just one thing: Continue lowering the cost of wind energy so it delivers power more inexpensively than gas, solar, coal and nuclear. We must be aligned in this ambition, and have a single-minded strategy to help attain it.
That strategy is to make wind the most cost-efficient, economical energy choice for customers. Demand for wind should be an economic, not a political question. Using the world's largest fleet of wind turbines Vestas draws every day on global experience and a voluminous stream of data and diagnostics to innovate and improve our technology and performance. Wind turbines are more efficient and reliable than ever before, which contributes to steadily reducing wind energy costs.
Wind may be variable, but more than 30 years of experience and data have given us the ability to monitor and forecast turbine outputs, wind speeds and site conditions. As a result, we can help our customers optimize and predict their performance and yield as well as their revenue and profitability. We use an advanced systems approach that integrates all the key inputs and information — "smart" data, not just "big" data — and tailors it to meet the needs of each customer. It's a data-driven strategy Deloitte has recognized for its innovation and leadership, and is the foundation of what we call “ensuring business case certainty” for wind-energy customers.
To maintain wind's market momentum, we must continue to advance technology and scale to drive costs even lower. One key will be going to where the wind is — all the data shows it blows stronger and steadier higher in the air. DOE's report urges scaling to new heights with taller towers for wind turbines, up to 150 meters in hub height. This will enable wind energy production to expand from 39 to 50 states. The technology is already available with hub heights reaching 149 meters in Europe.
Policy also plays a role. We're not basing our commercial strategy on it, but extending the production tax credit will help level the playing field for wind. It will also ensure investment stability for continued growth. That is particularly important given the Environmental Protection Agency's pending Clean Power Plan, which will provide state policymakers an opportunity to turn to wind to help reach their clean power goals.
Wind power has a long history in America and an even brighter future. Wind pumped clean water to communities across the Great Plains a century ago. Now it produces clean electricity that's revitalizing rural economies and manufacturing. Wind supports 70,000 jobs — projected to rise to 375,000 by 2030. The wind powering them is also home-grown and home-blown. That's vital for U.S. energy independence and climate security.
Chris Brown is president of Vestas-American Wind Technology, Vestas’ North American business unit.
Vestas Fact Box:
Operates more than 54,000 wind turbines in 73 countries.
Employs around 4,500 people in the United States.