Is Wind the Solution to the World’s Energy Needs?

November 18, 2019

Renewable energy is among the fastest growing sources of the world’s electricity. Renewable energy sources consist of wind, solar and hydro. The Energy Information Agency (EIA) forecasts renewables will be the fastest growing source of electricity in the US over the next two years and beyond.

“The nation’s wind supply is abundant and inexhaustible. Over the past 10 years, cumulative wind power capacity in the United States increased an average of 30% per year, and wind now has the largest renewable generation capacity of all renewables in the United States.”

Energy Department, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

In the US, wind energy has surpassed solar and supplies nearly 5% of our nation’s total energy demand. The US is one of the most promising markets with many state and local governments already passing legislation to drive the adoption of wind energy to diversify their energy portfolios. A recent report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) concludes that wind energy could grow to a $1 trillion business and satisfy our global energy needs by 2040.

IEA 2019 Offshore Wind Outlook

While coal consumption continues to dominate power generation in the world, the demand for renewables is growing. More countries are replacing fossil fuels with wind energy in an effort to curtail the impact of global warming. In 2016, the UK generated more power from wind than coal for the first time. Globally, coal generated electricity still grew by 1% in 2018 over the prior year. Coal is the largest emitter of CO2 — emitting twice as much CO2 as natural gas.

A coal-burning power plant in Shanxi, China

Coal burning remains China and India’s primary source of energy. It is their voracious appetite for energy that will continue to be an obstacle to any meaningful global compromise on reducing CO2 emissions. However, China and India’s growing pollution problem has Beijing and New Delhi exploring cleaner energy alternatives.

In 2018, China produced over 25% of its power from renewable sources. According to China National Energy Administration, wind is China’s fastest growing renewable energy source. India has set a goal of 175GW from renewable sources by 2022.

The US and China are ideal markets for wind energy because they both enjoy long coastlines and consistent wind patterns. Today, China has outpaced the US, India and Europe in wind energy. China has expanded its onshore and offshore production — making it the world’s largest producer of wind energy.

Chinese companies Goldwing, Envision, Mingyang and Guodian, together, currently manufacture the most wind turbines in the world.

Offshore Wind

Offshore wind could be the best solution to the global energy demand. Offshore wind is stronger, more predictable and plentiful than wind generated onshore.

Wind energy in America

Wind turbines placed offshore harness wind and convert it into useable energy. Taller wind turbines with larger rotor diameters can produce even more energy than their shorter counterparts. Soon, the technology will advance enough to harness wind through “floating turbines” which can be maneuvered to take best advantage of wind patterns.

In the IEA study, they conclude worldwide offshore wind from turbines placed less than 40 miles from shore could produce 36,000 terawatts of electricity. Today, the world’s total demand for electricity is 23,000 terawatts.

The U.K. is number one in offshore wind energy production followed by Germany and China. However, the greatest potential for wind energy could be in the United States.

Based on projections by the Department of Energy, offshore wind turbines could generate 7,200 terawatts nearly double America’s current electricity consumption which was 4,171 terawatts in 2018. And statehouses and legislatures have taken notice. States up and down the eastern seaboard are enacting legislation and auctioning leases for wind farms to a variety of companies both foreign and domestic.

U.S. and European companies are investing time, money and talent into these burgeoning opportunities.

Economic Opportunity

The wind story is not just an environmental one; it’s also an economic one. Wind energy currently supports over 100,000 jobs in the US. The Department of Energy’s Wind Vision report (Wind Vision Report) forecasts Wind energy could support more than 600,000 jobs by 2050 — many of them in Engineering, Construction, Manufacturing, Finance, Research and Marketing.

Wind and other renewables also provide a hedge against unrest in the Middle East and fluctuations in fossil fuel commodity pricing — helping keep consumer electric bills stable.

Roadblocks

Wind energy is not without its challenges. Significant hurdles stifle its widespread adoption. Conflicting regulations, outdated policies and bureaucratic processes are formidable obstacles to progress.

In addition to navigating each state’s myriad of regulations, the Trump Administration has sent mixed signals on its support for wind energy. In October, Acting Director of Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Walther Cruickshank said wind energy remains a part of the Trump Administration’s agenda. However, the administration’s ultimate position will be determined by Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, who was a lobbyist for Haliburton and has strong ties to the petroleum industry.

Currently, the Department of Interior has suspended permitting approvals for offshore wind farms. However, it’s not just the administration that is skeptical of wind farms. Several activist groups and property owners oppose placing turbines within view of beaches for fear of a loss in tourists’ dollars. The Fishing industry is also weighing in on the potential damage wind turbine pylons could do to fishing lanes and wildlife habitats.

Customers concerned about skyrocketing energy costs are also skeptical about the reliability and consistency of the energy produced by wind turbines. Many believe costs will exceed company projections and leave them with higher energy bills.

Moreover, it is unclear how much each state will benefit economically. The cost benefit analysis remains a source of fervent debate.

While the opposition is real, the fact is that most Americans want cleaner energy according to a Consumer Reports article Majority of Americans Want Cleaner Energy

Wind power is currently generating more than 100GW of power in the US; enough energy to power 32 million homes. If fully adopted wind could exceed US commercial and residential energy demand for the foreseeable future.

Tom Kiernan, CEO of American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), recently said “Wind power is growing rapidly, especially with a major new market opportunity offshore. “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.”