For many years, widespread wind power was a distant dream. No longer.
Today, wind power is shaping energy markets around the world.
Wind power is cheap and getting cheaper. New technologies are opening
new frontiers, helping harness the wind for electricity in ways and
places out of reach in years past. Wind power is creating jobs, cutting
pollution, and spurring innovation. Yet the industry faces important
challenges, including competition from cheap natural gas, transmission
siting, and stop-and-start policies that frustrate long-term planning.
I recently visited Iowa, where more than 20 percent of the electricity
comes from wind power. I toured a factory that makes large wind
turbines and one that makes small wind power components—part of a
supply chain that employs more than 6,000 people in Iowa and 75,000
people around the United States, according to industry estimates.
In 2011, new wind power investment in the United States exceeded $14
billion, accounting for 32 percent of new electric capacity additions.
Over the past three years, the United States has more than doubled the
electricity we produce from wind.
The focus of this workshop on distributed wind power is especially
timely. Wind power systems at factories, warehouses and other
businesses, and in communities, can often provide low-cost electricity
at slower wind speeds than utility-scale turbines, without the need for
long-distance transmission. One leader in this field is Wal-Mart, which
operates 14 stores in Northern Ireland entirely on wind power, has 12
mini-turbines supplying a store in Massachusetts, and recently
announced its first on-site industrial scale turbine at a distribution
center in California. In the past five years, installed capacity of
small wind turbines (capacity <100kW) in the United States has
increased 247 percent.
The market for wind turbines in distributed applications has
significant growth potential. Industry studies report that distributed
wind systems in the U.S. are projected to reach an installed capacity
of 3 to 5 GW by 2020.
This growth will be driven by the projected cost reductions due to
performance improvements resulting from ongoing research and
development activities. In addition, cost reductions can be achieved
through innovative manufacturing techniques. The technology continues
to be a means for local economic development, while providing energy
In recent years, new small wind power products have entered the market
without a framework for verifying manufacturer claims about turbine
performance, reliability, noise, and safety. As a result, in 2009, the
Department of Energy supported the development of a technical standard
that can now be used voluntarily to test small wind systems to
performance and safety criteria.
In 2010, the DOE supported the establishment of four small wind turbine
regional test centers and the Small Wind Certification Council, which
provides accredited third party verification of test results in
accordance with internationally adopted technical standards for testing.
The DOE and U.S. industry view small wind product certification as a
way to provide manufacturers with the parameters for communicating
transparent and credible information to consumers, utilities, lenders,
and policymakers about the safety, performance, and durability of small
Mike Bergey, president of BergeyWindpower and the 2011/12 president of
the Distributed Wind Energy Association, said, "This is huge for
consumers," describing a new standard as "the most significant
milestone in the history of the small wind industry because it
provides, for the first time, third-party verification of real world
performance and a highly technical review of a turbine's strength and
Wind power has a bright future. Technological progress and
manufacturing scale can help further reduce costs. Advances in energy
storage can help address the challenge of intermittency. Cheap natural
gas, which may compete against wind as an energy source, can also work
in combination with wind, providing cheap backup power when the wind
doesn't blow. Advances in computer modeling can help optimize power
production from large wind farms, driving down costs. With smart
policies and top talent working in the field, the potential is enormous.
Sandalow is acting Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy.
For the Record is an excerpt of his remarks at the U.S.-Brazil Wind
Workshop in August 2012.