US Government Provides Framework for 35 Percent Energy from Wind by 2050

In an effort to support U.S. President Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy, today the DOE released a report focused on the wind industry and how it could provide up to 35 percent of the nations energy by 2050. The purpose of the report, according to Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), is to “articulate the vision for the wind industry — a very compelling vision of getting to 20 percent by 2030 and 35 percent by 2050 — and articulating the significant benefits that come to the country from implementing that vision.”

The report, Wind Vision: A New Era for Wind Power in the United States, shows how with technological advancements driving projected cost reductions, in combination with continued siting and transmission development, wind power can be economically deployed to provide renewable power in all 50 states. “A key point is the declining cost,” said Kiernan, adding “while they vary throughout the country, costs have come down by 58 percent over the past five years and are projected to continue coming down.”

Technology is also improving, he said. “The turbines are getting taller, the technology better, we are producing more wind electricity at lower costs.”

Kiernan also pointed out that the industry is ahead of predictations that were set forth in the 2008 Wind Vision report.  “We’re ahead of schedule on those cost reductions,” said Kiernan. “We have gotten more cost out of the industry than we expected and we have deployed more wind than we had expected in that 2008 report.” 

Methodology

The Wind Vision report looked at three scenarios for wind development, a baseline with wind power capacity held constant at 61 GW, a business-as-usual scenario and the study scenario. According to the report:

The Study Scenario starts with current manufacturing capacity (estimated at 8-10 GW of nacelle assembly and other large turbine components within the U.S. today) and applies central projections for variables such as wind power costs, fossil fuel costs, and energy demand in order to arrive at a credible projected pathway that would maintain the existing industry, for purposes of calculating potential social and economic benefits. The Study Scenario is a plausible outcome, representing what could come about through a variety of pathways, including aggressive wind cost reductions, high fossil fuel costs, federal or state policy support, high demand growth, or different combinations of these factors. The resulting Study Scenario—10% by 2020, 20% by 2030, and 35% by 2050 wind energy as a share of national end-use electricity demand—is compared against the Baseline Scenario to estimate costs, benefits, and other impacts associated with potential future wind deployment.

“That analysis was just used to calculate the benefits,” explained Kiernan. “What is relevant is the projection for meeting the scenario does lead to the significant cost savings for consumer, the increased jobs and then all of the environmental benefits that are calculated in the report as well.”

Wind Energy Could Be a Powerhouse

The study scenario concludes that aggressive wind deployment would have an overall positive economic benefit on the U.S, providing nearly $280 billion in consumer cost savings by 2050. That savings comes from not using natural gas for electricity, explained Peter Kelley, AWEA’s Vice President of Public Affairs. “As you provide another source of electricity and don’t have to burn as much gas for electricity, more of it is available for home heating and other uses so it tends to avoid price spikes/shocks that consumers face when natural gas goes very expensive, he explained.  Kelley pointed out that wind energy saved consumers $1 billion in just two days during the “polar vortex” this year.  

The report states that the U.S. could install up to 11 GW per year in new wind energy capacity through 2050, an ambitious but feasible deployment scenario comparable to the wind capacity installed in 2012, according to a White House Fact Sheet about the report. This growth could lead to America operating and maintaining a fleet of more than 400 GW nationwide through 2050. The report also indicates that the United States could install a total of 86 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2050, creating clean energy jobs in coastal communities.

It projects that the wind industry could employ more than 600,000 people by 2050 in industries such as construction, engineering, transportation, manufacturing, operations, maintenance, and supporting services. Today there are approximately 50,000 wind industry workers.

Wind Vision also defines a roadmap of actions the wind energy industry and the research community can take to optimize wind’s potential contribution to the nation’s energy portfolio.

The nine core “action areas” in the report’s roadmap range from technology advancement to workforce development, and are designed to remove hurdles to wind power deployment, while boosting U.S. manufacturing competitiveness and the clean energy workforce.

Kiernan is hopeful that the message in the report will hit home on capital hill. He said that the benefits of wind are clear and encouraging. “I think the report helps make a strong case that should be of interest across the political spectrum,” he said.

One of the most important messages of the report said Kiernan is that the entire vision is achievable. “What’s needed is stable policy but this is very doable as demonstrated by the fact that we are ahead of schedule [as set forth in the 2008 report]. “We can do this,” he said. 

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Jennifer Runyon
Jennifer Runyon has been studying and reporting about the world's transition to clean energy since 2007. As editor of the world's largest renewable energy publication, Renewable Energy World, she observed, interviewed experts about, and reported on major clean energy milestones including Germany's explosive growth of solar PV, the formation and development of the U.S. onshore wind industry, the U.K. offshore wind boom, China's solar manufacturing dominance, the rise of energy storage, the changing landscape for utilities and grid operators and much, much, more. You can reach her at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com Today, in addition to managing content on Renewable Energy World and POWERGRID International, she also serves as the conference advisory committee chair for DISTRIBUTECH, a globally recognized conference and expo for the transmission and distribution industry. In her role, she works in close cooperation with a large team of committed industry executives to shape the educational content for the event. She also helps assemble the renewable energy content for POWERGEN and helped launch the first Grid-Scale Storage Summit, a co-located event at HYDROVISION International. She has traveled to Germany to see onshore and offshore wind installations; Iceland to see geothermal energy in action; and France to see cutting-edge smart grids. In the U.S. she has visited and reported about bioenergy power plants in Florida, both large-scale and small-scale hydropower; and multiple wind farms, solar PV, and CSP installations. Formerly, she was the managing editor of Innovate Forum, an online publication that focused on innovation in manufacturing. Prior to that she was the managing editor at Desktop Engineering magazine. In 2008, she won an "Eddy Award" for her editing work on an article about solar trees in Vienna. In 2010, RenewableEnergyWorld.com was awarded an American Business Media Neal Award for its eNewsletters, which were created under her direction. She holds a Master's Degree in English Education from Boston University and a BA in English from the University of Virginia.

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