Image: Bing Guan / Bloomberg via Getty Images
Wind has officially beaten solar as the fastest growing energy source in the country this year, according to a new report from the US Department of Energy.
The United States has installed a record 16,836 megawatts of wind capacity in 2021, as detailed in the Onshore Wind Market Report 2021, published Monday by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
In doing so, wind exceeded solar capacity additions for the first time, although solar had a “record year” for new additions. Wind and solar have both overtaken any other source of energy for new capacity, overtaking natural gas capacity additions, which have fallen to their lowest level in five years. In the southwest, new wind turbines accounted for almost 80 percent of new energy additions.
This means that we are building more wind turbines, and bigger those, for less money, both in stand-alone farms and in hybrid plants that combine wind power with fossil fuels, solar and battery storage (there were 38 hybrid plants by the end of 2020 , notes the report). The average rotor size has increased 159% since the late 1990s to 408 feet, while the average turbine height has increased 59% to 295 feet during the same period, and the country is now home to more than 67,000 turbines in total. They are the cheapest they’ve ever been to produce, costing around $ 800 per kilowatt, up from $ 1,800 per kilowatt in 2008, even as their performance has improved.
United States ranked second (after China) in annual and cumulative wind capacity additions in 2020, the result of nearly $ 25 billion in investments in the form of tax incentives, research and development, and growth of manufacturing, operations and facilities. of maintenance.
This investment has proven to be successful, not only in bringing the country closer to meeting the renewable energy targets set by state and federal governments, but in reducing the burden of our collective dependence on fossil fuels. Nationally, the health and climate benefits of wind are worth $ 76 per megawatt hour, the report claims, because each unit of wind generated reduces the need for the same unit of polluting power source (recent research attributed air pollution from fossil fuels to nearly 20% of deaths worldwide).
“Wind reduces emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, providing public health and climate benefits,” the report says. The financial benefits of reducing these emissions are worth nearly three times the cost of producing wind power, the report notes.
According to the report, landlocked states in the center of the country stand to gain from developing onshore wind technology (crucially, this report does not include statistics on offshore wind technology, which coastal states like New York are in. developing., and which represent a potentially important source of energy). Wind provides over 30% of total electricity in Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma in the Dakotas, which is home to some of the fastest breezes in the country. Texas installed the largest wind power capacity in the country in 2020 (although right-wing commentators alleged that the frozen turbines caused the catastrophic outages of its grid in February, a claim that was quickly demystified).
But wind power still generates less than 10% of the country’s total electricity production, a rate that is nothing compared to the nearly 50% that countries like Denmark, Ireland and Germany approach then. that they develop their renewable technologies. The United States Still Depends on Fossil Fuel to Keep the Lights On: Oil, Coal and Natural Gas Continue to dominate American grids. This has been a pivotal year in changing that reality, the DOE report shows, but there is still a long way to go.