Rapid development of the U.S. wind energy industry has led to significant reductions in power sector carbon emissions. In 2013, the U.S. wind fleet reduced power sector emissions by 96 million metric tons, or 4.4 percent, the equivalent of taking 16.9 million cars off the road. Wind energy is the lowest cost and most scalable zero-emission electricity source.
Electricity produced by a wind project results in an equivalent decrease in electricity production at the most expensive currently operating power plant, which is almost always the least efficient fossil-fired power plant.
“Wind energy is leading the U.S. to a low carbon future. Not only is wind energy reliable and affordable,” said Emily Williams, Senior Policy Analyst for AWEA, “but it’s providing sustained emissions reductions in the sector that contributes the most to climate change, the power sector.”
In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, wind energy also greatly reduces a variety of health-harming air pollutants, including smog-forming sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, dangerous particulate matter, mercury, and other toxins. Wind energy also reduces the massive quantity of water that is evaporated during the cooling process at conventional power plants. In 2013, wind energy saved 36.5 billion gallons of water, or 276 billion bottles of water.
At the end of 2013, there were over 12,000 megawatts (MW) of wind energy under construction, which will eventually help to make an even bigger dent in emissions. On average, wind generation will avoid roughly 0.6 metric ton (1,300 pounds) of CO2 for every megawatt hour (MWh) of wind generation. When all 12,000 MW have completed construction, operational wind projects in the U.S. will reduce power section emission by a total of 117 million tons annually, or over 5.3% of power sector emissions
Analysis by numerous independent grid operators confirms that wind energy significantly reduces emissions:
- A 2014 study for PJM, the Mid-Atlantic grid operator, found that a scenario of 20% wind energy would reduce the region’s CO2 emissions by 80 million tons, or a reduction of 18%, while reducing the cost of producing electricity by more than $9 billion.
- A 2013 study covering the Western region of the U.S. found that producing 33% of the region’s electricity from wind and solar energy would reduce CO2 emissions by nearly 34%. This report also used real-world data from every fossil-fired power plant in the West to put to rest the myth that wind energy’s pollution savings are smaller than expected because fossil-fired power plants run at lower efficiency due to increased cycling. Even at the very high level of renewable energy use examined in this report, the impact on the efficiency of fossil-fired power plants was found to be “negligible,” reducing the carbon emissions reduction benefits of wind and solar by only 0.2%, so that on net wind and solar produced 99.8% of the expected emissions savings.
Further details on wind energy generation data and state-level wind energy statistics will be released in the forthcoming AWEA U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report Year Ending 2013, to be released on April 10, 2014. This 100-page report will provide a comprehensive look at the U.S. wind energy industry, wind project activity by state and region, market rankings, wind turbine characteristics, status of power purchase agreements, component manufacturing, and the economic impact of the U.S. wind energy industry. The table of contents and summary from the 2012 report provides a sample of the data included in the report.
In just over a month’s time, the entire wind industry will gather in Las Vegas, Nevada for AWEA WINDPOWER 2014 Conference & Exhibition on May 5-8. Attendees of WINDPOWER can attend educational sessions and hear market insights and industry trends directly from experts.