U.S. wind power hits 100 GW installation milestone

Source: By Chris Galford, Daily Energy Insider • Posted: Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Following an explosive third quarter and a solid year all around, wind capacity in the United States has hit and crossed the 100-gigawatt (GW) marker, according to a comprehensive report from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

“This is an extraordinary milestone, on top of a record third quarter,” Tom Kiernan, CEO of AWEA, said. “We are now the single largest source of renewable generation in the country.”

The U.S. Wind Industry Third Quarter 2019 Market Report boasted several milestones for the burgeoning industry. Foremost among them: 1,927 megawatts (MW) of wind power capacity was commissioned in the quarter, the highest third quarter for installations on record.

Since wind power arguably became a viable energy option, with the first utility-scale wind farm introduced to California in 1981, it took 27 years for the industry to hit its first 25 GW. Within four years, the second 25 GW was marked. In 2016, the first offshore wind farm began operation, and now, the 100 GW milestone has been achieved as the industry continues to pick up speed.

“Wind now supplies clean and efficient power to the equivalent of 32 million American homes, sustains 500 U.S. factories, and delivers more than one billion dollars a year in new revenue to rural communities and states,” Kiernan said.

With the industry’s growth come other possibilities. It’s a low cost producer and, as it takes the place of other sources, helps reduce sulfur and other dangerous gases in the air. AWEA also estimates the industry currently employs around 114,000 people.

This year has, thus far, represented the most active 9 month period since 2012 for wind energy. In the third quarter alone, 1,972 MW were installed, while 3,887 MW have been installed over the year.

Texas is leading among current installers, bringing in 2,129 MW over the quarter and boasting more than a quarter of U.S. capacity, according to Celeste Wanner, senior analyst for the AWEA and lead author of this report. However, wind power operations are now in place all across the country. South Dakota and Michigan have seen the largest upticks in construction activity. Over the year so far, 20 new projects have been installed in nine states, with eight projects in the third quarter.

The industry has hit record numbers for the amount of wind either under construction or advanced development, with 10,090 MW of new projects in the third quarter.

Most wind projects remain focused on the middle of the country, but the report showed signs of advancement on the coasts as well. The United States is now underway with its second offshore wind project and the first in federal waters. Power purchase agreements have also experienced a banner year, boasting a higher year-to-date volume than each year from 2013 to 2017 — 1,379 MW were announced in the third quarter.

Turbine capacity was another factor in the report, where some changes could mean significant potential for growth down the line. Currently, the 2.5 to 3 MW machines are the most popular. Still, John Hensley, vice president of research & analytics for AWEA, noted that more projects are turning to machines capable of producing in excess of 4 MW. The largest currently reported, at least for the onshore market, has hit 4.8 MW and 32 percent of turbine capacity now utilize turbine models with 3 MW or higher turbines.

Additionally, the report showed that market owners stayed the same. GE, Vestas, and Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy dominate the field in terms of power capacity installations and construction of advanced development wind capacity.

While there are uncertainties ahead for the market, especially at the federal level, AWEA remains confident that more benefits are coming. Kiernan pointed to policy levers that could potentially speed up wind adoption, such as tax credits or carbon legislation, but the organization has already begun looking ahead to the next 100 GW, especially if the offshore wind industry continues on pace.

“Wind power is growing rapidly, especially with a major new market opportunity offshore,” Kiernan said. “Americans will reap the benefits of the next 100 GW of clean, reliable wind energy in much less time and at lower cost. As we speak, wind farms with a record combined capacity of over 46 GW are already in the works and expected to come online in the next few years.”