• Energy & Power

Department of Energy Leading the Nation’s Wind Energy R&D



energy technology has come a long way over the past decade. In 1996, the average utility-scale turbine was almost as tall as a 12-story building and it produced enough electricity to power about 125 average American homes. At the time, these turbines were considered by some to be quite large, but by today’s standards, they would be considered small for utility-scale production. The average turbine installed in 2006 (rated at 1.5 MW) was twice as tall as the ’96 model. It is almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty and has a rotor large enough to sweep a football field.

A 1.5-megawatt (MW) turbine produces enough electricity to power almost 500 homes, and again, that might be considered small when compared to the 3- to 5-MW machines being developed today that will generate enough power for more than 1,300 homes. A 3.6-MW machine has a rotor diameter large enough to park 24 cars in end to end, and a 5-MW machine is as tall as the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has worked with industry for more than 25 years to bring the technology to where it is today, developing larger machines that are more efficient and that capture more energy from the wind. As the machines have increased in size and performance, the cost of producing energy has dropped—from

$0.80 (current dollars) per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in 1980 to about $0.04/kWh today—so that in some areas of the Nation, utility-scale wind power is the most cost-effective form of new generation available.

DOE has also been working to improve the performance and reduce the costs for small and distributed wind energy systems.

These systems show great potential for engaging local populations in addressing America’s energy future. Advances in small wind technology have produced quieter and more reliable systems that are easier to install and cost less to operate.

The wind energy industry has become the fastest growing utility-scale energy resource in the Nation, growing from 1,800-MW of capacity in 1996 to more than 11,600 MW in 2006. 2006 was a record-breaking year with new installations of more than 2,400 MW and a 27% annual growth rate. The new generating capacity installed in 2006 represents a capital investment of almost $4 billion, more than 10,000 new job-years nationwide (10,000 one-year jobs or 1,000 ten-year jobs), and more than $5 to $9 million in annual payments to landowners. The land payments and jobs provide a much needed economic boost to America’s struggling rural economies.

As a clean, domestically produced energy resource, wind energy also contributes to our Nation’s energy security and environmental quality. The current capacity will generate more than 30 million megawatt-hours (MWh) and displace approximately 18 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.

Although 11,600 MW is enough capacity to power about 3 million average homes, it still constitutes a very small share of the total U.S. generation. According to the Energy Information Administration, as of October 2006, wind accounted for only 0.7% of the national electric supply. Coal-fired plants generate the majority (48.5%) of the Nation’s electrical energy, followed by natural gas (20.5%) and nuclear plants (19.2%). Conventional hydroelectric, petroleum-fired plants, and other renewables constitute the remaining generation sources.

To accelerate the development and use of advanced clean energy technologies, President George W. Bush launched an Advanced Energy Initiative in 2006. According to the Initiative, areas with good wind resources have the potential to supply up to 20% of the electricity consumption of the United States. The DOE Wind Energy Program is collaborating with industry and stakeholders to analyze credible scenarios for high levels of wind energy use, and determine what actions will best address the technology, market, and policy challenges to maximizing the Nation’s opportunity for harnessing its immense wind resources. To provide 20% of the Nation’s electricity supply, U.S. wind capacity would have to increase from its current 11,600 MW to more than 325,000 MW. Incorporating this amount of wind generated electricity in the Nation’s electricity portfolio could avoid emission of 3,500 million metric tons of carbon equivalent through 2050—equivalent to the amount of carbon produced by the entire transportation sector over 3-1/2 years. This would also lead to approximately $332 billion in economic invest-ment and more than 3,725,000 full-time equivalency job years for construction and plant operation, largely focused in rural areas.

To provide greater support for the President’s initiative, in 2006, the DOE Wind Energy Program shifted the emphasis of its activities to accelerate the market penetration of wind technology.

Shifts in program activities include:

  1. Supporting the development of 20% U.S. energy by wind.
  2. Increasing the program’s efforts to overcome near-term deployment barriers to wind projects.
  3. Collaborating with the DOE Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability to ensure that wind energy is appropriately represented in grid expansion and modernization efforts around the Nation and conducting outreach to Federal, state, and local organizations and utilities.
  4. Expanding work in the area of turbine performance and reliability to mitigate risk to investors, developers, and operators.
  5. expanding program activities in the distributed wind technology market sector (residential, farm, small business).