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Monday, July 27, 2015

U.S. Wind Power On Course To Grow Big

A man rids his bike against the win as giant wind turbines are powered by strong winds at sunset on March 27, 2013 in Palm Springs, California. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

A man rids his bike against the win as giant wind turbines are powered by strong winds at sunset on March 27, 2013 in Palm Springs, California. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

The Department of Energy says wind power is poised to become one of the country’s largest sources of energy, generating 35 percent by 2050, up from 5 percent today.

And it’s not just the windiest states that will generate wind energy. Thanks to improvements in technology, every state now has the capacity to produce wind power.

Jeremy Firestone is a professor in the School of Marine Science and Policy at the University of Delaware, and director of the Center for Carbon-free Power Integration. He tells Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson why wind power is on course to become one of the country’s largest sources of energy, and where the U.S. stands compared with other countries.

Interview Highlights: Jeremy Firestone

On the reality of wind as power

“Land-based wind is already, in many areas of the country, the cheapest new source of energy… Iowa gets about 28 percent of its energy from wind and this is not a red state or blue state thing. Following just behind Iowa is South Dakota. Indeed all of our states, with increasing technology, with improving technology, are going to see wind power. The turbines are much bigger, the blades are longer and we’re going to be able to put them at increasing height. All of those lead to both greater wind and greater energy capture.”

On the advantages of offshore wind farms

“The advantage of offshore is that the winds are generally stronger, more consistent. And during the summer while the generation offshore is still less than it is in the winter, in the middle of the day you get a sea breeze and so you will generate some power. On the land, we know that when it gets really hot in the summer, you don’t generate much power.”

On the challenges of launching offshore wind farms

“The turbines are much bigger, the blades are longer and we’re going to be able to put them at increasing height. All of those lead to both greater wind and greater energy capture.”

– Jeremy Firestone

“It’s certainly much more challenging. You’ve got not just wind forces on turbines, but you have to account for wind and wave loading. The upfront capital costs are quite large and so it becomes difficult to finance these and we haven’t had long-term policies at the federal level in place to facilitate it. In comparison, when Congress passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005, it provided for a 16-year planning horizon for nuclear power and it enacted a production tax credit. And the wind production tax credit is basically here one year and then it stops and starts again. And with something like offshore wind that has a long planning horizon, that makes it very difficult… You need more consistency and a longer-term vision.”

On how U.S. wind power stacks up globally

“We’ve fallen behind China. We’ve fallen behind Japan. We’re getting behind Vietnam and South Korea. So as a number of the Asian countries are making progress on offshore wind, we’re going to be putting in our first project off of Rhode Island and it will be in the waters in 2016. It’s a relatively small project of five wind turbines but we are getting on the board. Europe on the other hand has 8,000 megawatts. On land, China has at present the most installed capacity, but the United States generates the most power from wind. That’s because a lot of Chinese turbines are not yet grid-connected. They’re up, but they’re not connected to the grid.”

Guest


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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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