Which way will the wind (power) blow in 2010?
The United States became the No. 1 wind power market in the world in 2008. But under the credit crisis in 2009, the building of new wind farms slackened and the United States ceded its top global spot to China.
With the demand for renewable energy still growing, the American Wind Energy Association is eyeing 2010 as a critical year. Here are some of their top trends to watch for:
Second to natural gas: Wind power generates only 2 percent of the U.S. electrical supply. But new wind power generation in the United States has been second only to natural gas generation in terms of new capacity built each year since 2005. Watch for the industry to work to keep that spot.
Wind turbines ratchet up the power: General Electric won a $1.4 billion contract in December to supply 338 turbines for a massive new wind farm in Oregon being built by energy producer Caithness Energy LLC. The size of the turbines — 2.5 megawatts — forecasts a shift to larger turbines, driven by economics, the wind group said. “Taller turbines with larger swept areas produce more power at a lower cost per kilowatt-hour.”
Market for small projects grows: The trade group predicts small wind projects for homeowners and small businesses will see record growth, fueled by an expansion of a 30-percent investment tax credit.
Industry seeks advice on where to put projects: Wind farm developers have to win regulatory approval for their projects, which have sparked conflict with conservationists at times. To ease the process of clearing those hurdles and finding sites for projects, the industry is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plus other federal agencies and nonprofits to get more clarity on wildlife surveys and other required studies. Will more guidelines be enough to speed up the development?
States, regions work on transmission: The industry is looking to states and regions to move toward investing in transmission needed to move electricity from often remote wind farms to the cities that use the power. The trade group is eyeing the Midwest in particular and whether its independent system operator that manages the regional power grid for 15 states and one Canadian province follows Texas and the Southwest region in how it invests in new transmission lines.
(Photo: A finished wind turbine complex is shown in southern Wyoming in 2009 where environmentalists feared further development could threaten habitat such as sage brush and species such as the greater sage grouse. Photo credit: Reuters)