To those who helped get wind power off the ground in the United States, it seems as though the industry has come full circle. in 2008, the US became the nation with the largest amount of installed wind farm capacity. For years, Europe led the way, with Germany the long-time top country in installations and Denmark turning heads with its stellar 20% penetration – a rate the US wind turbines industry would be thrilled to achieve, even in many years’ time.
In fact, the year the US took the lead in capacity, the US department of energy released a study showing the feasibility of 20% wind energy penetration by 2030.
But Europe wasn’t always wind power’s hub. The modern industry got off the ground in the US, with the first utility-scale projects going online in California late in 1981. For a time, excitement surrounded the industry here, with engineers working to improve on their first-generation large wind turbines and government policy supporting their efforts all the way.
So when the US became the leader in wind energy capacity in 2008, veterans of the industry had a sense of déjà vu. America’s 1980s boom didn’t last long. Shortly after utility-scale wind power began, policy support disappeared, and the industry went dormant.
Meanwhile, european governments chose to embrace wind power, establishing a solid base of policies that would allow the industry to flourish. Manufacturing facilities sprouted, creating jobs, and companies worked feverishly to build on existing technology.
The wind energy industry was allowed to mature. Back in the US, policymakers in the 1990s again decided to dip their toes in the water, implementing a short-term policy called the production tax credit (pTC).
It was wildly successful, and the sector experienced a rebirth. The pTC was given only one- and two-year extensions, and was even allowed to expire for brief periods, but it nevertheless propelled forward an industry that now has installed a total of over 35,000 MW.
Underscoring the importance of policy is the Global Wind Energy Council’s recent report, showing that China, which has aggressive renewable energy targets, overtook the US for new wind farm installations in 2009: an impressive 13,000 MW. The US installed 10,000 MW – a record of its own.
China has set a target of 100,000 MW by 2020, and a total of 37 countries have established renewables targets. These figures are an indication of how the industry has matured into a global presence that will continue to be an evergrowing economic force – and one that tackles climate change.
It is an exciting time for wind power everywhere. While much policy work is needed in the US and the state of the economy has impacted the industry in the near term, the long-term outlook remains strong.
Wind works for America and robust growth is expected, and we will need the strength of international companies to help meet the demand. Most of the biggest names in european wind energy have arrived on US shores and are setting US shop if they haven’t already. The US wind industry welcomes this trend.
But if we are to ensure those other countries are making the investments to build manufacturing in this country, american labour and materials are required. We must pass policies showing the US is committed for the long term.
The thing we can least afford at this juncture is to have the football once again pulled away just as we are about to kick it.