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After a rough year in 2013, the U.S. wind energy industry installed 3,600 MW in the fourth quarter of 2014 and 4,854 MW for the whole year. This is nearly five times more than the industry total during its 2013 slump. The U.S. now has an installed wind capacity of 65,879 MW, with another 13,600 MW under construction and an additional 3,300 MW of power purchase agreements signed in 2014. During the opening quarter of 2015, 131 MW were installed (68 turbines). That brought the U.S to more than 48,000 turbines overall, according to the latest report by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) released just ahead of the WINDPOWER 2015 Conference that took place in Orlando, Florida in May (a state which is home to 15 wind turbine part factories). Speakers at the show heralded the swift recovery of the industry.
“We continue to improve our technology and lower our costs, creating new opportunities for wind projects and job growth all across the country,” said AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan. “Wind turbine technology has advanced in just a few decades from the Model T era to more like that of a Tesla Model S. Advanced towers, blades and improved electronics to operate and maintain the turbines are all part of this revolution.”
He emphasized the renewed strength of the industry with a near-record new capacity under development across 100 projects in 23 states. This “wind rush” amounts to $23 billion in private investment.
The falling cost of wind energy has attracted corporate and other non-utility purchasers such as Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, the Mars Corporation, IKEA and Dow Chemical. IKEA purchased two wind farms last year including a 165 MW wind farm in Texas.
New wind resource maps from the National Renewable Energy Lab show the ability for advanced wind turbines to reach stronger winds higher above the ground. This can unlock a previously untapped wind resource area that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) says could eventually bring wind energy development to every U.S. state.
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“Wind generation has more than tripled in the U.S. in just six years, exceeding 4.5 % of total generation, and we are focused on expanding its clean power potential to every state in the country,” said U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz during his keynote. “By producing the next generation of larger and more efficient wind turbines, we can create thousands of new jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as we fully unlock wind power as a critical national resource.”
More than 1,000 U.S. wind turbines are already accessing higher wind resources with towers reaching 100 meters or more above the ground, rather than the 80 meter standard that had been the stateof- the-art for multiple years. Heights up to 120 meters or more are already common in Europe, allowing the stronger, steadier winds at that elevation to be tapped. At 110-meter hub heights, DOE expects the land area with physical potential for wind deployment in the U.S. to increase 54%, and at 140-meter hub heights, the potential land area would increase 67% (Figures 1 and 2).
Further advancement in turbine technology, including raising hub heights to 140 meters and lowering specific power, would open up an additional one-fifth of the land area of the United States for wind turbine locations, lighting up many parts of the country, especially the Southeast U.S.