Staying strong through the 2020’s: 16 trends powering wind’s growth

This column originally appeared in the WINDPOWER show daily.

In December 2015, a bipartisan deal in Congress gave the U.S. wind industry something it had sought for years: long-term policy certainty. The five-year extension of the Production Tax Credit, retroactive to cover 2015, created a business environment primed for growth and finally put an end to the boom-bust cycles.

Nearly halfway into the five-year phasedown, we’ve seen the benefits of that certainty for American families and businesses that rely on wind power.

Wind jobs grew nine times faster than the overall economy last year, topping 100,000. Our first quarter of 2017 was the strongest in eight years, installing enough turbines in three months to support 40,000 years of full-time employment for wind workers.

What happens after the PTC phasedown finishes in 2019? Over the next three days, I’ll examine 16 developments that will help us continue to add chapters to this American success story.

Today we start with trends readily apparent across the U.S. wind industry.

  1. Falling costs. The cost of wind energy is already down two-thirds in seven years. Industry analysts in a survey for IAEA agreed that by 2030 it can fall by another 24 percent from today’s levels, making wind even more cost-competitive in more places.
  2. Turbines reach stronger, steadier winds. As turbines reach higher, they can access a stronger wind resource. This makes new areas cost-effective for wind farms, such as the American Southeast. North Carolina just became the 41st state with a utility-scale wind farm, built with 93-meter towers, and taller ones are now proposed for the state. Even more typical 80-meter towers are being outfitted with longer blades, raising performance closer to their theoretical maximum capacity.
  3. Artificial intelligence, big data, and smart metering are converging with storage technology to help smooth intermittency, as well as maximize and dispatch the output of wind farms. And, “we can now manage load points bidirectionally,” as incoming AWEA Chair Tristan Grimbert of EDF Renewables says.
  4. DOE’s Wind Vision study assumes that as turbines reach 25 years old, they will be replaced. More efficient technology increases output and lowers maintenance costs. And it’s generating factory orders. We’re already seeing this happen at legacy projects in California. For example, a wind farm that once had 1,475 much smaller turbines can now generate the same amount of electricity with just 82.
  5. Offshore progress.Now that the U.S. offshore sector is underway, it will add jobs, investment, and megawatts. Major fossil fuel players such as Statoil, Royal Dutch Shell, and Eni are finding they can repurpose ships and other offshore oil and gas assets. They’re competing for leases with early entrants such as Dong Energy, Vattenfall, and companies already invested in land-based wind.