Wind energy primed for new growth

October 2010 Vol. 65 No. 10

According to a report released in August by the U.S. Department of Energy and prepared by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, despite grim predictions at the close of 2008, the U.S. wind power industry experienced another record year in 2009. At the same time, the report’s primary authors and scientist, Ryan Wiser and Mark Bolinger say the combination of the financial crisis and lower wholesale electricity prices has taken a toll on the wind power industry, dampening expectations for 2010.

Drawing from a variety of sources, the “2009 Wind Technologies Market Report” analyzes trends in wind power capacity growth, turbine size, turbine prices, installed project costs, project performance, wind power prices, and how wind prices compare to the price of conventional generation. It also describes developer consolidation trends, current ownership and financing structures, and trends among major wind power purchasers. Finally, the report examines other factors impacting the domestic wind power market, including grid integration, transmission issues, and policy drivers. The report concludes with a preview of possible near- to medium-term market developments.

Wind power installations in 2009 reached roughly 10,000 MW and accounted for over $21 billion invested, says the study. At the end of 2009, the cumulative wind power capacity in the U.S. was more than 35,000 MW. This is about 35 percent more than the next country in installed capacity, China at 25,853 MW with Germany close behind at 25,813 MW. Several countries are now achieving high levels of wind energy penetration in their electricity grids with Denmark leading with 20 percent, 14 percent of Spain and Portugal’s, Ireland at 11 percent, Germany at 8 percent and the U.S. trailing at only 2 percent of the nation’s electricity consumption.

The report cites the financial crisis, lower wholesale electricity prices and lower demand for renewable energy as taking a toll of the wind power sector in 2010. With the extension of federal incentives through 2012, there is less motivation to complete projects in 2010; however, many projects will get a construction jump-start in 2010 in order to be eligible for the 30 percent Treasury cash grant. After a slower beginning in 2010, industry experts predict the market will rebound in 2011-12, as the Recovery Act programs mature and as financing becomes more available.