Generator - Wind Generation Has a Lot of Fans!

Hydrocarbons — mostly natural gas and coal — are still the energy source behind the lion’s share of electric power generation in the U.S. However, renewables like wind and solar are now the frontrunners when it comes to scheduled capacity additions. In fact, renewables account for about 70% of the total 37.9 gigawatts (GW) of new generating capacity under construction in 2021. Recent announcements such as final federal approval for the mammoth Vineyard Wind 1 project — by far the largest permitted offshore wind project in the U.S. to date — only bolster the view that wind power’s role in U.S. power generation will continue to grow through the 2020s. Today, we look at the surge in construction of onshore and offshore wind farms and what it means for the overall power generation mix.

The power generation sector in the U.S. has been undergoing significant change. Coal has been falling out of favor and gas-fired generation has been on the rise. But a large majority of the capacity being added lately falls under the renewables banner. Despite its intermittent nature, wind power now accounts for about 8% of total U.S. electricity generation, or more than eight times its share in 2008. Further, wind power is now the largest contributor from the renewables side of the ledger: just above hydroelectric power, which held that title until 2019. Wind was able to capture that top slot due to a number of new installments coming online. In fact, the 24 GW of wind projects completed in 2019 and 2020 accounts for 20% of the 119 GW of wind generation in operation at the end of last year.

Despite the fact that humans have been capturing wind energy to power mechanical processes for millennia, harnessing its power to generate electricity at an economic scale in the modern era has required a climb up the learning curve. When you look at the early projects, they started off small and then began to get more efficient and generate a higher output. As tax incentives were enacted, funding became more available, and regulatory approval became easier, projects were able to achieve serious scale. That led to almost exponential growth in the amount of wind power capacity online in the U.S. (green bars within dashed yellow oval in Figure 1). Another 16.2 GW of wind will be added to the grid this year (red bar), pushing the installed-capacity total to near 135 GW. And while the growth rate the U.S. has seen in wind power over the past 15 years is projected to slow somewhat in the five-year forecast generated by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA; blue bars), actual growth has often exceeded these forecasts in the past.

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