Blown Away by Wind Power

Blown Away by Wind Power

Last weekend I had to take a trip from the south west of Scotland to the north west of England. It is a fairly unpopulated area along the M6 motorway for most of that distance. One thing that did surprise me was the amount of wind turbine installations. I had read a lot of news articles on installations, but it felt like there was always at least one turbine in sight for the whole 200 miles journey. The scale of the installations impressed me, with almost every hill having one or more turbines. The government claims that electricity generation from wind power in the UK has increased by 715% from 2009 to 2020 up to a total of 75,610 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity. That figure made up 24% of the country’s total electricity generation in 2020. It certainly felt like it one my trip.

The US is also putting more and more emphasis on wind power, and their figure could grow considerably if President Biden’s recently announced plans to make federal lands easier to access and cheaper for renewable generation come to fruition. Currently, wind generation in the US is a mixed bag, with 10 states generating over 20% of their electricity through wind. However, the average for the country was only 8% according to the US Department of Energy, which released a report on wind power this week. The report found that wind power is growing at a record pace in the US. Last year, $25 billion was invested in 16.8 GW of new capacity allowing wind power to make up that 8% of the nations total electricity generation.

The US’ ability to generate power from wind is also improving, with the wind project average capacity factor among recently built projects now registering over 40%, higher than projects built earlier. This increase is at least partially due to improved plant performance, which in turn, has been driven by larger turbines mounted on taller towers and featuring longer blades. The report found that in 2010, no turbines used blades that were 115 meters in diameter or larger. However, in 2020, over 90% of newly installed turbines featured such rotors.

The costs of wind turbines in the US are averaging $775–$850/kW. The average installed cost of wind projects in 2020 was $1,460/kW, down more than 40% since the peak in 2010. The actual cost of wind energy is low at around $20/MWh in the interior of the country. In the West and East, prices are generally $30/MWh or more. At the high end, prices of $70/MWh are found for power purchase agreements executed in 2009. The energy prices, which are possible in part due to federal tax support, now fall below the projected future fuel costs of gas-fired generation. The average levelized cost of wind energy dropped to $33/Mwh. Levelized costs exclude the impacts of federal tax incentives.

By and large, the future looks bright for wind. It should be even better when more research is done offshore, where more consistent wind can be found.