Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Wind Power Races Past 50,000 Megawatts Milestone: Bolt-like Growth

America's wind industry raced past in July the 50,000 megawatts milestone, a truly substantial accomplishment.  And its growth since 2003 has been nearly as fast as Usain Bolt.

Just consider these remarkable facts.  From 1981 to 2003, a total of 5,000 megawatts of wind was installed in the USA for an average of less than 250 megawatts installed per year over a 22-year period.  Snail-like growth.

But then the Bolt wind growth era began in 2003. 

From 2003-2006, wind capacity jumped from 5,000 megawatts to 10,000 and then exploded to 25,000 megawatts by 2008.  The US wind industry added 20,000 megawatts in 5 years from 2003 to 2008 or 4,000 megawatts per year.

But the wind boom really has picked up speed since 2008.  In the last 4 years, the US has crossed the 50,000 megawatts milestone and likely will end 2012 with more than 55,000 megawatts of wind operating.

In short, wind power will have more than doubled since 2008, adding approximately 30,000 megawatts or 7,500 megawatts per year.  Bolt-like growth, indeed, and it took place, while the shale gas boom shattered natural gas and wholesale electricity prices.


  1. You know what they say about the speed progression, John:


    1. To continue the tangent, I was in awe of all the Olympic sprinters in the 100 meters men's final. The race was amazing because the field was so strong. But Bolt is just extraordinary. He has the three fastest times ever--9.59, 9.63, 9.69.

  2. Bolt, Crony Capitalists, down to the bank with the taxpayers and ratepayers money with a vig for the government bureaucrats along the way.

  3. John, I think it is worth noting here that a large portion of this growth was due to the soon to expire PTC pulling forward wind projects.

    While this is great short term news if you are a fan of wind, 2013 is going to be a dead year for wind and the next few years hinge almost entirely on Congress. The state RPS can only support a fraction of new wind installations as compared to the PTC.

    While I agree the growth is strong, I believe it is important to continue to note that wind is still not an economically viable energy source as it is highly dependent on government assistance.

    1. No doubt that the PTC is important to new wind construction. Agreed. Indeed, it is very important when power prices are as low as they are now.

      But even without the PTC and even with the current low power prices, and low electricity demand growth, about 2,000 to 3,000 megawatts of wind per year would be built. Wind without subsidies costs about 5 cents per kilowatt-hour and price has no volatility. That means wind is an economic choice in some places, even under really negative assumptions (no ptc, low power prices, and slow electricity demand growth). The big long-term story is how much wind costs have come down to improve greatly wind's competitiveness.

    2. Isn't another question about the future is whether states will have the discipline / ability to enforce more advanced renewable portfolio standards as they force the development of wind even if costs don't fall. I'm not sure state legislatures will be as supportive of RPS programs as the targets become more difficult to hit.

  4. John and Carbon Black, you both brought up great points.

    John, the lack of price volatility in wind is certainly something I did not think of, but isn't that counteracted by wind volatility? The wind does not always blow, and thus the "some places" where wind makes sense seems like it would be highly geographically limited - at least that is my initial thought.

    I appreciate the responses!