The US is the largest single market for wind power
By Jon Dougal
We hope you enjoyed another successful trip to the WindPower 2007 conference in early June, the hallmark wind conference held at the LA Convention center. Oh, you weren't able to attend? If you're at all worried about having enough electric power to supply the needs of a growing economy -Stop. The Wind Power Association has it all figured out. With the US supplying the largest single market for wind power in the world, opportunity abounds.
The show was busy as always, and we would like to share a recap of some of the announcements that have been made recently by Spanish companies that attended. These activities demonstrate Spain's position as a major player in the renewable energy sector.
- Acciona, the world's largest wind park developer, recently announced two new projects that are underway:
Construction has started on its first wind turbine manufacturing plant, located in West Branch, Iowa. Upon completion, the $23 million plant will supply turbines for Acciona wind farms throughout North America.
Nevada Solar One, the largest-capacity solar power plant built in the world in 16 years and the third-largest of its kind, has recently begun supplying power to the Nevada Power grid. The 64-MW solar thermal power plant utilizes large-scale, parabolic trough technology to enable heat transfer from the sun's rays to ultimately generate enough electricity to power 15,000 households annually.
- Iberdrola, the world's leading wind energy company and one of the largest operators in renewable energies, announced this week that they are acquiring Energy East - currently operating the distribution, generation and supply businesses in five states: New York, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut - for more than $4.5 billion. The transaction is subject to approval by Energy East's shareholders and is expected to close in 2008.
- Ecotècnia, a company dedicated to designing, manufacturing and operating wind turbines and solar power installations, has been acquired by French company, Alstom Group, a world leader in transport and energy infrastructure. When complete, the acquisition will strengthen the company's offering in renewable energies, specifically in wind power.
- Gamesa, Spain's largest wind-turbine manufacturer and a worldwide leader in wind energy, announced this week that the company has formed a wind turbine manufacturing company with Grupo Daniel Alonso, to combine their operations at four locations in Spain. Wind turbines are in increasingly high demand; Gamesa estimates that turbines being ordered today will not be delivered until 2011.
The wind-energy business in 2006 recorded its second year of record growth, and executives are pushing the industry supporters to continue to look to the future. Wind Impresarios want wind farms to supply 20% of the nation's energy by 2030, an increase over the 1% market share of today.
Randall Swisher, executive director of the American Wind Energy Assn., told attendees Getting there won't be easy. It requires a transformation of the electric industry and a whole number of things that we don't have today."
The most crucial of those needs: an extension of the federal production tax credit that has helped make the United States the fastest-growing wind power market. The on-again, off-again credit is set to expire at the end of next year. This issue of legislation sun-setting has always been a thorn in the side of energy buffs.
President Reagan cancelled solar energy credits in the 1970's, just about killing a thriving industry. Wind energy suffered a set back in the 80's when capital write-offs were removed, and wind like any other infrastructure remedy is capital intensive.
Other obstacles include the rising costs of wind turbines and other equipment and a shortage of electrical transmission lines to carry wind energy to the power grid. Then there's public concern about noise, the danger to wildlife and visual intrusion caused by the rows of giant, white wind turbines that typify wind farms. But public perception is changing.
Paradoxically, California's coast offers a unique opportunity in an adequate wind supply for Wind turbines, where no raptors will be hurt. A site for a wind farm has to offer average wind speed of 15mph. The California coast offers that condition, and the coastline is 1200 miles long.
A similar opportunity lays off Holland, in the north sea, where great turbulence, & high wind energy galvanized the country to take advantage of the opportunity and they installed a model wind energy generating farm. Towers rising 210ft (20 stories) above sea level, in 70ft of water and anchored 110' under the sea floor. Gears so big you can walk through them, blades 140' to 190' long, of carbon fiber. This wind farm of 36 wind turbines will supply 116,000 traditionally built homes with all the power needed, with no green house gases generated.
In addition, a wide-ranging energy bill backed by Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) requires the federal Fish and Wildlife Service to create standards for siting, building and monitoring wind projects to prevent unnecessary harm to birds and bats that can fly into the spinning blades. But this study is almost a no brainer, since windmills are no longer used. The proper term is wind turbine. These are magnificent towers that rise 200 feet above their substrate and the turbine blades turn ever so slowly so that birds can avoid flying into them.
Wind energy's popularity has soared anyway, and the enthusiasm for it is only slightly damped by its inability to produce power full time. Governments around the world are counting on wind energy to help cut carbon emissions, which play a major role in global warming, while still keeping the lights on in a growing economy.
Wind farms can be built relatively quickly, have little or no harmful emissions, don't gulp down water or require mining or drilling, and, with incentives, are relatively cheap compared with other renewable power technologies. Homes and businesses in less urban areas can even do it themselves, contributing to brisk growth in the use of relatively small wind turbines. These small farms, houses and even high rise buildings utilizing smaller wind turbines contribute to the concept of Distributed Energy or demand-side generation. The term refers to local or non-single-source power generation.
That's been a compelling set of qualities for smog-laden states such as California, which have wind-energy potential as well as aggressive timelines for adding renewable energy.
California, which had been the nation's wind-power pioneer, has 2,376 megawatts of production capacity at wind farms in the Tehachapi region near Bakersfield, the Pacheco Pass off Highway 152 near Gilroy, the San Gorgonio Pass west of Palm Springs and Northern California's Altamont Pass. The state last year lost its top ranking to Texas, which has 2,739 megawatts of wind-energy capacity, Energy Department statistics show.
The wind industry added 2,400 megawatts of capacity across the country last year, putting the nation's total wind-energy capacity at nearly 11,700 megawatts. Experts predict bigger increases this year, with wind farms generating 31 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity - enough to power nearly 3 million average homes, according to the U.S. wind power trade group.
While Spain dominated the expo floor, with their numerous wind energy companies, the floor also was chock-full of lesser-known companies drawn in by the wind-farm construction boom and selling such things as insurance, employee training, cranes, ladders and "fall arresting systems."
During one panel discussion, industry executive Robert Lukefahr urged wind advocates to keep their enthusiasm grounded in reality.
"We have not yet made the case to the American public broadly about why this is right and why it's worth paying extra for cleaner power," said Lukefahr, president of Power Americas, a unit of oil giant BP's alternative energy business.
"It is the most cost-effective low-carbon solution we have today," he told reporters later. "It's not free, but it's affordable."